I received a review copy of this title from Two Lines Press. The book was published in the original Portugese in 1991 and this English version has been translated by Adam Morris.
The first reaction that I had to the writing style and narrative of this book is that it feels like a series of flash fiction stories. When we first meet the narrator he lives in Porto Alegre with his mother is a decrepit, abandoned apartment. Other miscreant vagabonds also spend their days idling around the lobby of this building and doing drugs. The narrator’s actions and thoughts in the book reflect his aimless and disjointed life; he talks to his mother, he tries to write poetry, he sleeps, he wanders around the city.
The writing manages to be both subtle and shocking when he sexually assaults a girl whom he encounters sitting among the ruins of the city and singing. The narrative of this encounter is so oddly non-descript for such a horrible act that I had to go back and read the brief paragraph to confirm in my mind what had just happened. The narrator is then thrown in a jail for his crime and the next few pages of the book deal with the broken and disgusting men he encounters in this jail.
My comparison with flash fiction came to mind because Noll provides us with several different short stories about this narrator. In just a few pages the author gives us just enough of a story to provide an image of a complete setting, but then that story ends abruptly and leaves us with a million questions and wanting more details. What did the narrator suddenly attack this girl? How do they know he is guilty? Why do they set him free so quickly from jail?
The next piece of flash fiction, if we continue with my assessment of the genre, is the narrator’s visit to the countryside once he is suddenly taken from his jail cell. He is put into a clinic in São Leopoldo where the narrator meets Kurt, a German Brazilian. Once again many questions come to mind: What is Kurt’s connection to the institution? Why does Kurt want to help the narrator and care for him? Why is the narrator put in a clinic instead of being kept in a jail cell?
The final, and largest story, takes place on Kurt’s country manor where the narrator is invited to live. Greda, Kurt’s ailing wife, Octavio, a type of handyman and Amalia, a maid, also live on the property. The narrator continues his wandering existence while on the manor, visiting Amilia for nocturnal amorous adventures, taking walks in the woods, and falling asleep listening to the radio. Every once in a while he dabbles at his poetry but in the middle of the narrative he announces that after this period he never writes poetry again.
There are two additional themes that pervade the narrative that are also worth mentioning. Sex and desire are never far from the narrator’s mind. After his attack on his neighbor, his lust does not diminish. He has several lascivious encounters in the book which are quick and never carried out with emotion or feeling. He also notes that at the beginning of the book when he is in Porto Alegre he is a boy and by the time he comes to live with Kurt on his manor he has fully become a man. When Kurt’s wife dies and he is distraught at her passing, he looks to the narrator for comfort who admits this makes him sad. This is the first time in the story that the narrator expresses true emotion and demonstrates that he might have actually matured.
This short book is a fascinating read because of the disjointed, flash fiction feel to the prose; it is a book that leaves us wanting more, not just of the narrator’s story but of Noll’s writing as well. I am hoping that more of this author’s works will be published in English.
Please visit the publisher’s website for an excerpt of this book: http://twolinespress.com/?project=quiet-creature-on-the-corner-by-joao-gilberto-noll
About the Author:
is the author of nearly 20 books. His work has appeared in Brazil’s leading periodicals, and he has been a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation, King’s College London, and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow. A five-time recipient of the Prêmio Jabuti, and the recipient of over 10 awards in all, he lives in Porto Alegre, Brazil.