It takes a gay writer to bring a Catholic country back to its sense of love and sin, good and evil, and moral justice. The road is very long, but the actual miles travelled are very few, as almost all the action takes place on the family estate at Vila Velha, not so very far from Rio di Janiero.
The house itself takes centre stage in Chronicle of a Murdered House, by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa with Robin Patterson.
Once the house has got you in its clutches, it is impossible to leave. Nina, who marries into the family out necessity, repeatedly tries to, but she keeps coming back. Her death is the starting point and endpoint of the story.
The tiny grain of sin that destroys them all is buried deep and it takes a while to be uncovered. A sense of growing horror and claustrophobia descends on the reader, too. as if the rainforest is invading the estate with its choking undergrowth.
By the time the worst sin of all turns out not to have even been committed, the damage has already been done. Love and hate are so interwoven, that no character can possibly have a clean moral slate. The layers of their pasts are revealed right up until the last few pages. To say any more would spoil the story.
This 1930s saga is an absolute classic of Brazilian literature and won the Best Translated Book Award this year for prose, along with Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness for poetry. An inspiration to his friend Clarice Lispector, Cardoso was the life and soul of Ipanema, but grew up in the countryside too. The flamboyant and fearful gay uncle in his novel, Timóteo, is even more tragic when you know the author’s own story. A stroke left Cardoso unable to write, but he carried on creating, painting right up until his death. You can see some of his work here.