If I Close my Eyes Now
As Yuri Gagarin transmits from space, and indelibly changes our view of ourselves, two young boys bunking off school in an anonymous Brazilian city make a discovery that will change their lives forever too. The mutilated body of a beautiful young woman, hidden among mangroves, sparks off an eccentric investigation by Eduardo and Paulo, and Ubiratan, an old man who spends all day playing chess against himself and lies about his past. Just as Gagarin observes Earth from the outside, these three, each in his own way an outcast from society, reveal the hypocrisy, corruption and savagery of their community as they uncover the tangled truth behind the murder.
The novel moves at a cracking pace, largely due to extended passages of lively dialogue in which characters cut across one another in a way which combines stylistic bravura and confusion in equal measure, and must have presented translator Nick Caistor with quite some challenges. It departs, however, from the conventions of the crime novel in that, until the last few pages – when the causes of the crime unfold in ever mounting grand guignol – its revelations have more to do with the broad spectrum of Brazilian society and politics in the early sixties than with the murder with which it begins. In the way in which it blends the tropes of the whodunit with social comment, Silvestre’s writing reminded me of Henning Mankell, which surely bodes well for future translations into English and attracting the attention of TV executives.
Not an easy read, but a cleverly balanced and constructed novel, sad, funny and shocking in equal measure. Reader should note it contains very graphic accounts of disturbing sexual practices.