A Cup Of Rage – Raduan Nassar (translated by Stefan Tobler) – Man Booker International Prize 2016

Don’t forget that in life’s rough and tumble motives aren’t the point.
Welcome to the “rough and tumble” world of Raduan Nassar and his short but bitter description of human relationships, and the motive? That’s not the point.
Here’s a short review for a very very short book.
The shortest book on the 2016 Man Booker International Prize longlist for many a year (I can only think of poetry books and chapbooks that I own that are shorter than this work), is the Brazilian “A Cup of Rage” by Raduan Nassar (translated by Stefan Tobler). Originally published in 1978, under the title ‘Um Copo de Cólera’, and running to a mere 45 pages this publication is not a weighty read, however it isn’t a shallow one either.
Our book opens with the distant allure of our male protagonist nonchalantly eating a tomato sprinkled with salt, he knows that his detached approach is fuelling a lustful desire in his partner. Our story then moves to the bedroom and we continue the detachment with distant observations that our male believes will be forthcoming in the love making, descriptions of feet, hands, hair, these are more detailed than the act itself.
A mere seven chapters, with six of them taking up less than fourteen pages, each chapter is written in long melancholic single paragraphs, in fact single sentences, pages and pages of single sentences, this work, although short, is not simplistic nor conventional;
It was already half past five when I said to her ‘I’m going to jump out of bed’ but she wound herself around me like a creeping vine, her claws closing where they could, and she had claws on her hands and claws on her feet, and a thick, strongly smelling birdlime over her whole body, and since we were almost grappling each other I said ‘let me go, little bindweed’, knowing that she liked it when I spoke that way, so in response she said. Feigning solemnity, ‘I won’t let you go, my grave Cypressus erectus’, her eyes beaming with pride at her impressive repartee (although there she wasn’t well versed in botanical matters, even less so  in the geometry of conifers, and the little that she dared flaunt concerning plants she has learnt from me and nobody else), and in the knowledge that there are no branches or trunks, however strong the tree may be, that can resist the advances of a creeper, I tore myself away from her while there was time and slipped quickly over to the window, immediately raised the blind and felt on my still warm body the cold, damp air that started to get in the room,…
Broken into seven chapters, as described above, the opening revealing our manipulative male alluring the younger woman and the subsequent sexual actions, the longer middle section containing a destructive, unexplained, bitter battle of words and wits, and an ending which I will not reveal here, this is a work that contains a raft of quotable observations, our rich older male landowner, moves from lover to enraged verbal abuser, the catalyst for his behaviour appearing to be him observing ants destroying his prized hedge;
…livid with these wonderfully orderly ants, livid with their model efficiency, livid with how fucking organized they are that they left the weeds well alone and ate my privet hedge
An observation that flies in the face of his own behaviour, an organised, calculating, efficient, scheming man who is now rebelling against all he stands for. Our counterpoint to his outrageous boiling over, is a younger successful journalist female, a wisecracking, often laughing, intellectual who can verbally deflate even the most boisterous of egos. “In short the little miss could never get enough of this ‘old man’.”
The wise observations are scattered throughout:
I who was – methodically – mixing reason and emotion into and extraordinary alchemical amalgam.
Not forgetting that reflection is nothing more than the excretions of the drama of our existence, foolishly put on a pedestal by us.
A work that explores the manipulative side to relationships, the allure, the sexual desire and then the destructive, often violent, reactions, the perpetual spiral of self-destruction, the slipping away from attraction and into rejection.
Although an intriguing work, with gems scattered throughout and a wise view on relationships, however, personally I feel this is a short story, even too short to be classed as a novella, and this has to be a major hindrance as to the book’s ability to even make the shortlist, let alone take out the Man Booker International Prize itself.  

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2 thoughts on “A Cup Of Rage – Raduan Nassar (translated by Stefan Tobler) – Man Booker International Prize 2016

  1. Thanks for your review, Tony. I hope you're wrong and it does progress to the shortlist. I think the important thing is the writing, not the length. But since you're talking length, I would like to take the opportunity to mention that this novella appears shorter in English because of the small typeface used by Penguin Modern Classics. The definitive Portuguese edition comes in at 82 pages (not including the paratexts) and it makes for a perfectly respectable 82 pages.

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  2. Thanks for stopping by Stefan, I am honoured. For your sake I do hope this book progresses further, being a Shadow Jury judge I'm being a little ruthless, but in my opinion this is a far superior work to a number on the longlist. I wish you well, in both And Other Stories progress, and with the Man Booker International Prize nomination.

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