Roman à clef?

william-haefeli-less-roman-more-clef-new-yorker-cartoon

I’ve never had a problem with the form of fiction known as the “roman à clef” (French for a story that needs a key). Generally, knowing the key will make the story more relevant but not knowing the key is perfectly okay, assuming the fiction is well-written. How many readers have enjoyed Anthony Powell’s A Dance To the Music of Time [see also] without knowing the sources of Powell’s characterizations? As the years go by, those real-life personages are becoming sufficiently obscure so as to make knowing the key even less important.

I am, however, now concerned about what is being considered a roman à clef. Look at this list from Wikipedia:

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António Lobo Antunes

António Lobo Antunes is an author that amazes me ever time I read him. His prose is so fresh and unique, seldom dipping to cliché and often soaring to the realms generally reserved for poetry. I realize that his works are translated from the Portuguese and since I know no Portuguese I am at the mercy of the translator, but I still find them exquisite. Antunes is not a traditional writer and his novels are full of wild imagery, surrealistic events, and experimental construction (standard punctuation and those welcome novelistic conventions such as chapters and paragraphs are usually missing or twisted in some imaginative way).

I have a small library of titles by Antunes that I have yet to read so I am looking forward to the pleasure for many years to come; of course, at my age I might need to speed up the process if I want to get them all in. Right now I am reading Knowledge of Hell, which is an earlier selection from the Experiment Fiction group (XFX) I am just now getting to.

Here is a list of novels by António Lobo Antunes from Wikipedia. They are all highly recommended (even the ones I have yet to read):

  • Memória de Elefante (1979) Elephant’s Memory
  • Os Cus de Judas (1979) The Land at the End of the World (available in English)
  • Conhecimento do Inferno (1980) Knowledge of Hell (available in English)
  • Explicação dos Pássaros (1981) An Explanation of the Birds (available in English)
  • Fado Alexandrino (1983) Fado Alexandrino (available in English)
  • Auto dos Danados (1985) Act of the Damned (available in English)
  • As Naus (1988) The Return of the Caravels (available in English)
  • Tratado das Paixões da Alma (1990) Treatise on the Soul’s Passions
  • A Ordem Natural das Coisas (1992) The Natural Order of Things (available in English)
  • A Morte de Carlos Gardel (1994) The Death of Carlos Gardel
  • O Manual dos Inquisidores (1996) The Inquisitors’ Manual (available in English)
  • O Esplendor de Portugal (1997) The Splendor of Portugal (available in English)
  • Exortação aos Crocodilos (1999) Exhortation to the Crocodiles
  • Não Entres Tão Depressa Nessa Noite Escura (2000) Don’t Go Through That Dark Night So Fast
  • Que Farei Quando Tudo Arde? (2001) What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire? (available in English)
  • Boa Tarde às Coisas Aqui em Baixo (2003) Good Evening to the Things From Here Below
  • Eu Hei-de Amar uma Pedra (2004) I Shall Love a Stone
  • Ontem Não te vi em Babilónia (2006) Didn’t See You In Babylon Yesterday
  • O Meu Nome é Legião (2007) My Name Is Legion
  • O Arquipélago da Insónia (2008) Archipelago of Insomnia
  • Que Cavalos São Aqueles Que Fazem Sombra no Mar? (2009) What Are Those Horses That Shade In The Sea?
  • Sôbolos Rios Que Vão (2010)