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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 May 2010
A collection of random musings of a fiercely contemplative mind rather than a novel. Indeed if you try to read The Book of Disquiet from cover to cover, it is almost oppressively melancholic. Nothing much happens, and what we have is a collection of reveries and thoughts - almost a diary, but not quite - of existential musings about life, loneliness and the human condition. It's so introspective that after a while the monotony of the writer's mundane existence starts to wear on the reader. But I would urge you not to read this book like that. Rather, dip into it at random and you will find a work of undeniable genius.

One of the strengths of this Serpent's Tail Classics edition is the brief introduction by William Boyd that puts Pessoa's life work into context. The Book of Disquiet is written by one of Pessoa's heteronyms, Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper in a textile company in Lisbon. Indeed we even get an introduction from Pessoa about when he `met' this person.

Pessoa's works were found in a trunk after his death. The prose writings here were in no discernable order and largely undated. So how you put them together is doubtless a source of great debate for Pessoa academics. There is no `right' order. Similarly the works have been translated into English by several people. The translation in this edition is by Margaret Jull Costa, widely accepted as the best translation and indeed it is remarkable how beautiful the writing is in places.

This Serpent's Tail Classics edition, edited by Maria José de Lancastre, attempts to put 257 different pieces of writing into a rough order by subject matter. These appear logical although there's no clear marking of the apparent subject matter making it more difficult to relocate the quote you are looking for. It is also worth noting that this is a selection from the more than 500 pieces that exist. I was slightly saddened that the only Pessoa quote that I knew prior to reading this, a personal favourite, that "to have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation" finds no place in this collection.

So, back to the content. Sure enough at times Soares/Pessoa comes over as being a bit like Hamlet's more indecisive twin, but the use of language is often profound and frequently mesmerising. It's certainly on the heavy side of the reading scale, but it positively soars in its contemplation of life. "It's like having a cold in the soul" he says. How beautiful is that?

Some of the pieces are simply a single line, others a little longer but few more than a couple of pages. The ideas are often deep, but thanks to this superb translation, the language is far from impenetrable.

To give you another example, have you ever had trouble sleeping? How about this then: "Anyone wanting to make a catalogue of monsters would need only to photograph the things the night brings to somnolent souls who cannot sleep".

I could go on picking these superb musings at random. The book is full of them. It's unlike anything else you will have read, and a book that I know that I will dip into frequently. It's a mystery why his work isn't more widely known. In trying to learn a little more about him, it came as no surprise to me to discover that The Smiths wordsmith Morrissey is apparently a Pessoa fan. Perhaps that is as useful a guide as I can give you as to what to expect.

If you are of a contemplative disposition, then this may well be one of those books that truly changes how you see things. It's stunning. I'll leave the last word to Pessoa, which sums up my feelings on this book: "I stare out from the window of my room at the multitudes of stars; at multitudes of stars and nothing, but oh so many stars..."
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on 17 March 2010
I think describing this book as a novel is entirely misleading and can prejudice the readers attitude towards it. It is essentially a collection of notes and meditations on life and existential musings, that are deeply esoteric and almost impossible to read as a novel. It is more a book you dip into a few pages at a time and ponder over the profound and eloquent prose of a brilliant writer.

Pessoa touches on universal themes such as Love, Friendship, Dreams, Ambition, Faith and the after life - gliding with effortless skill through ideas that are very complex and recondite. The tone can sometimes seem quite melancholy, but I think Pessoa is playing devil's advocate rather than voicing any deeply held belief - and questions life and all its burdens as if on behalf of the reader. As such it is a joy to read, it transcends the page and you feel the words stir the soul with a power and skill that all the great writers possess.

It is a thought provoking read - that leaves you thinking long after you put it down and challenges the reader to look beyond mundane existence and focus on what Pessoa frequently refers too as the journey. He draws the attention of the reader from the everyday and routine, to a spiritual and meta-physical level that is rarely addressed in an increasingly secular world.
He asserts:

"Life is an experimental journey undertaken involuntarily. It is a journey of the spirit through the material world and, since it is the spirit that travels, it is in the spirit that it is experienced."

With this quality and skill with words, Pessoa takes the reader to new heights - it is certainly a challenging book to read, but the reward is more than worth the effort.
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on 7 June 2010
bought this following Nicholas Lezard's postive review in the Guardian. You never know whether its all hype with reviews or if somethings just not your thing, but this has the x factor. this is the first review I've ever written but i felt compelled - Pessoa's writing is strange but beautiful, bringing half-known truths to the surface and exploring life in that vaguely existential way reminiscent of Camus etc. as reviewer's suggest, but with a voice all of his own. its not good because its worthy or highbrow literature, you'll enjoy it because its magic.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 October 2011
Not a novel, just the collected reflections of one of the author's personae. A man doing a humdrum office job, day after day the same again, but the routine is like a waking coma that leaves his imagination free to roam and reflect upon his own life, the lives of others, mortality, place and space, you name it...

The kind of book, like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, that one should dip into here and there, now and then, for spiritual succour.

Superb. A keeper for life.
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on 20 February 2011
A review of this book in the Guardian prompted me to seek it out. It exceeded my expectations - it's a mesmerising book which somehow cuts through all the extraneous matter of daily life and reaches through to the essence of life, the heart of the matter. It's a wonderfully consoling book which repays many visits. I can only imagine the beauty of the writing in the original Portuguese, but even in translation one senses its allusive power, the voice sometimes laconic, sometimes rhapsodic, sometimes spare and elegiac. A book to treasure.
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on 15 December 2013
Not a novel in the conventional sense, this is the cobbled writings of Fernando Pessoa put together by editors rather than in any format he chose himself. His musings are endlessly fascinating and always poetic. He takes a permanent leap from the ordinary to the creamy alchemical centre of himself to ponder on life and love and soul and all the big impossible abstract nouns that confuse the hell out of most, which is why they fear to question themselves and don't go looking. Many do go looking and don't make it back. Pessoa frequently did, returning armed to the teeth with literary gold. It's in this book.
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on 26 January 2000
First of all, this is not a novel. O Livro do Desassossego is a sort of diary of all of Pessoa's thoughts and feelings. Reading this book will not only make you understand a bit more who Pessoa was but make you wonder who we are and why we are all 'here' (and if we are). This diary just comes to show how ambiguous and pessimistic Pessoa was, but also how much he wanted to live. Pessoa is, in my opinion, by far the greatest poet/ writer of all times.
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on 30 April 2011
A painfully beautiful account of life lived most sensually. Buy many copies, keep one for endless revisiting, keep a second as you're likely to wear it out, and donate other copies to those you love most.
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on 6 March 2016
This is arguably one of the most disquieting yet illuminating books I have read. Pessoa is what I would call an anti-realist, almost solipsist in his outlook, with his writing reflecting one who lived in a dream world having little to do with the common aspects of life. He wrote under multiple pseudonyms and this masterpiece was found as a pile of papers, notes, etc in an old trunk after his death. The book reminds me very much of Borges and his short story ' The Book of Sand'. You can simply open Pessoa, read a beautiful but abstracted vignette, and then never find it again. Good luck with this book, some consider it narcissistic, I think Pessoa was so far removed that narcism could not logically exist. It certainly makes life on the crowded commuter ways we now endure somewhat more bearable, entertaining and even pleasant. Pessoa lived almost exclusively in Lisbon echoing the vintage of Kant who never travelled more than 70 miles from what is now known as Kalingrad. I loved Pessoa.
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on 25 April 2009
This is without doubt one of the most beautiful books every written. The prose is breath-taking. The writing is thought-provoking. Nothing I write can possibly do it justice, all I can say is buy this book!
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