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The Implacable Order of Things (2000)

by Jose Luis Peixoto

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I think: perhaps the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it; perhaps we see everything upside down and earth is a kind of sky, so that when we die, we fall and sink into the sky.

I think: perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitudes, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others.


This surreal, haunting and bleak novel interspersed with glimpses of tender beauty is set in an unnamed small town in the arid interior region of Alentejo in southern Portugal. Life is a daily battle for its poor residents, who battle poverty and the whims of nature to eke out a hardscrabble existence in a village beset with jealousy, violence and tragedy, with little hope for a better future.

Blank Gaze is centered around several memorable and sometimes fantastic characters over two generations of village life. The most influential character is the devil, who conducts infrequent services and occasional weddings at the abandoned and decrepit town church, while taunting several men in the local bar run by Judas about the infidelities of their wives while the men are working away from home. Gabriel is an ever present 120 year old wise man, whose good advice is rarely followed. Moíses and Elias are Siamese twins joined by a common pinky finger. An old blind prostitute whose mother and grandmother are similarly afflicted services men on a regular basis, and a giant regularly torments a sheepherder and his wife.

The novel consists of snapshots of these characters over a 30+ year period, and consists of third person observations and first person accounts, which resemble haunted confessions by people who are overwhelmed by the untoward events affecting their lives and the ones of those closest to them. Brief periods of tenderness and joy are soon squelched by tragedy, which ultimately consumes everyone, including the devil, under an unforgiving blazing hot sun.

I found Blank Gaze to be a stunning and unforgettable novel, whose rich images outweighed the ethereal portrayals of its characters. Reading this was akin to watching a play on a stage covered in fog, as characters spoke initially hidden from sight, who subsequently appeared and were sometimes different from the one I thought was speaking. Although the points and themes that Peixoto were trying to express eluded me, I enjoyed reading this short book, and I will definitely look for more of his work in the near future. ( )
3 vote kidzdoc | Apr 25, 2015 |
I kind of want to say, "Oh, God just kill me now." Perhaps I'm falling in to Peixoto's trap of being too fatalistic. Not a shred of happiness invests this story of heat induced madness. The characters, odd though they are, are immersed in their own demise and we too fall victim to this. Don't read if near a balcony, bridge etc. ( )
  shushokan | Feb 13, 2013 |
I had been on a bit of a discovery voyage of Portuguese literature, riding waves of Saramago, Camões, and Pessoa, when I happened across José Luís Piexoto’s first novel, The Implacable Order of Things, which suddenly and effectively sank it. It’s not that Piexoto, a poetical author of great skill and dexterity, is not a good writer; he is. This musing of one of his characters is one of the most beautiful ideas I’ve read in a long time:

“I think: perhaps the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it; perhaps we see everything upside down and earth is a kind of sky, so that when we die, when we die, we fall and sink into the sky.”

It’s not that I was unfamiliar with the fatalistic tendencies of my peeps, either; I am. Intimately. After all, the Portuguese invented fado, the saddest music on the whole planet. The space that Piexoto creates, however, is a whole ’nother sun-scorched ball of … well, dirt.

In Piexoto’s world, the sun itself is more than the beneficent stellar body that we know and love, it is an omnipresent, malicious torturer, drying up even the smallest hope in an oppressive blast furnace of despair. In this dying, grindingly poor village, even the devil seems trapped, forced to downscale his machinations to petty manipulations of the insecurities and jealousies of simple villagers. God himself has already caught the last ass out of town, abandoning the church and ecclesiastical duties to the devil who, to his credit, attends to all weddings and funerals with a huge grin, knowing all too well that no matter what people do, they are fated only to become more miserable as the days drag on.

Peixoto employs a bit of magical realism that gives the whole book the feel of fable or of some sort of black scripture. The story starts out with the devil hinting very strongly to a shepherd that his wife is having an affair with a giant (who in reality has been raping her since her father died). The shepherd tells him to let the giant know that if he sees him around, he is going to smash in his face. This leads, predictably, to the shepherd getting beaten to within an inch of his life. As soon as the shepherd is well enough to walk again, he is right back downtown looking for trouble, and the giant, once again, beats him within an inch of his life.

The miserable denizens of Peixoto’s world are lacking any sense of free will and often are dragged toward their unhappy fates by limbs that seem to be driven by nothing but a howling sense of entropy. The only character who takes matters into its own … well, teeth, in this case, is the shepherd’s faithful dog. When its master finally confronts the horror of his situation and hangs himself, the dog rounds up all the other dogs in the village and tears the giant limb from limb. Score one for the dog.

By the second half of the book, we have burned through the first generation and are on to watching their progeny wither in the brutal heat. When we get to the one-legged, one-armed carpenter who grasps at happiness by marrying a blind prostitute after getting her pregnant—only to lose them both in childbirth, saw off his own leg, and burn down his (now no-legged) self and his shop for good measure—I started to get the sense that this book had become no more than misery porn. How much worse could things get? Worse. Implacably worse. Worse until the world itself (mercifully for the reader, but without a shred of pity for anyone else) grinds to a halt. Score one for the devil. ( )
1 vote railarson | Sep 13, 2010 |
A strange book about a strange world with strange characters. just to sum it up: a giant, the devil, twins conjoined at their pinky, a cook getting pregnant at the age of 70, the 150 year-old Gabriel, a blind prostitute, a voice coming from a trunk, a writer in a house without doors or windows and a carpenter with one eye, one leg and one arm are some of the figures in this story. The world is hot, lonely and full of desperation. Nothing much happens, apart from a lot of people dying.

It's a very depressing story without light. As a death metal song that goes on and on and on for over 200 pages.

The style of writing is remarkable. It is very poetic and evocative. Words and sentences are repeated as in a song. Initially I was quite charmed by the style and enjoyed reading it, but after awhile, to be honest, it started to bore me. Like a hitsong that looses its charm when you've heard it too often. I had quite a hard time finishing this. More repetition, more doom, more misery. How much can a person take? What's the sense of this book? I'll give it some more thought... ( )
  Tinwara | Apr 10, 2010 |
Finally -- an intelligent book about the end of the world! No stragglers feeding on dead babies, no mutants, or last minute rocket launch of survivors. If you’re going to end the world, end it. José Luís Peixoto steers clear of techno-babble and environmental catastrophes. Instead, his marvelous and deeply spiritual tale, The Implacable Order of Things, sails mournfully into the eternal on the crest of love’s final stories.
For the rest of this review see the Open Letters blog: http://openlettersmonthly.com/blog/ ( )
  kvanuska | Oct 5, 2008 |
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Today the weather didn't fool me. The air is perfectly still.
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I think: perhaps the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it; perhaps we see everything upside down and earth is a kind of sky, so that when we die, when we die, we fall and sink into the sky.
I think: perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitudes, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others.
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This book was published in the UK as "Blank gaze" and in the US as "The implacable order of things"
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In a poverty-stricken, rural Portuguese village, two generations of men and women, hardened by hunger, toil, and hardship, are driven by a force beyond themselves to fulfill their assigned roles in an eternal cycle of death and retribution.

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