Review: Quiet Creature on the Corner by João Gilberto Noll

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.

My Review:
Quiet CornerThe 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:

João Gilberto Noll 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.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Literature in Translation, Novella

5 responses to “Review: Quiet Creature on the Corner by João Gilberto Noll

  1. Interesting. I did not see this as containing multiple episodes, I saw the rather harsh breaks as resembling cuts between scenes in film. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but that’s been half the fun. I have been involved in a number of discussions/debates about this book on Facebook and Twitter. I know there are some more really unusual interpretations yet to come.

    I went to Google scholar to find material before writing my review for Numero Cinq and Noll talks about being existential and tragic in his approach and more interested in the “possible” than the “impossible”. There is now a really interesting interview with the translator at the Two Lines site. I’ve read the book three times to date and will read it again. It’s almost like a new book each time. Very, very weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for letting me know about the review with the author, I didn’t happen to see that on their site. I will have to read some other reviews as well to learn how others interpreted the book. I even found myself reading a few of the passages over and over in my first encounter with the book. Like I mentioned with the sexual assault, you question whether or not it even happened. And when the girl shows up at the jail he expects her to take back her accusation. So that scene made me question the initial experience between them even more.

      The lack of transitions in between episodes made me view them as separate stories. And each was so brief that the flash fiction genre immediately came to mind. This book definitely leaves the reader with many more questions! I hope more of Noll’s books are translated into English.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The thing is, I don’t think there is any right or wrong way to read this book. I have come to think it is very political. It is set and was written at the time of the transition from dictatorship to democracy (the election in the book is the run off vote following the first free elections (I looked it up). Clearly people who have had nothing are now hoping to have land, to won something for the first time. The narrator wants to hold on to his chance to inherit Kurt’s land and house, even if it is falling apart.

    Of course, tomorrow I might think something completely different! 🙂

    Like

  3. Whatever the case, it does sound like Noll is determined to keep the reader on his toes!
    I’m interested in the idea that it might be political – it’s easy to forget Spain’s long years of dictatorship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I think you are absolutely right that there are political elements here. I wasn’t sure to write about them. The constant presence of the police yet the chaos in society are an interesting contrast and show the disintegration of the dictatorship, I think.

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