cover image Chronicle of the Murdered House

Chronicle of the Murdered House

Lúcio Cardoso, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson. Open Letter, $17.95 trade paper (592p) ISBN 978-1-940953-50-2

A gothic classic of Brazilian literature making its English language debut, Cardoso’s novel is the story of the Menses family, whose desperate existence in a decaying backwater estate is disrupted when youngest son Valdo returns home from Rio with a young bride, the passionate and impulsive Nina. The new mistress of the house becomes a pawn in the simmering rivalry among the Menses brothers—Valdo, cross-dressing recluse Timoteo, and the icy elder Demetrio, who longs only for his ancestral house to be graced by a visit from the local baron—and a subject of gossip for the townspeople, whose letters back and forth form the bulk of the novel. There’s the doctor who examines Valdo after a supposed suicide attempt, maid Betty who is taken into Timoteo’s confidence, and the priest who receives the confessions of Demetrio’s jealous wife, Ana, regarding the suspicious death of the Menses’ gardener. But these concerns are nothing compared to the tragedy that follows Nina’s incestuous affair with Andre, her tortured son, who alone cares for her during a long convalescence. A foreword by Benjamin Moser focuses more on Cardoso’s status as a gay writer and the novel’s influence on fellow Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector than the novel itself. Perhaps this is because, despite all its intrigues, the book reads today as a bloated melodrama whose considerable ambiance is sapped by the monotony of its story line, punctuated by characters (cadaverous brother, snooping maid) that are little more than monster-movie grotesques. (Dec.)