Fernando Pessoa will be an unknown name to many literary fans and, furthermore, the Book of Disquiet is untraditional to the extreme. It’s barely a novel, in fact, and more a vast, endlessly intelligent selection of thoughts based on everyone’s favourite hobby – existing.
Born in Portugal in 1888, he led a quiet life and died in Lisbon in 1935. Only afterwards was his work, which he’d worked on throughout his life with no dream of publishing, discovered amongst his possessions. Pessoa wrote the work in a seemingly endless series of diary entries, and this was in serious disarray until editors ordered it all for this text – thanking you!
The Book of Disquiet
There is a sort of a plot, which is in keeping with many existential novels from the 20th century (the century before this one we’re in right now).
In the Book of Disquiet, Bernardo Soares contemplates his life without key areas he faces daily, such as work, his boss, colleagues, and the pet cat. This theme of uncertainty remains throughout, made worse by the consideration of where one would go if one left all that stuff behind.
Over 250 pages, Pessoa essentially writes concise paragraphs on the nature of existence and how we all live. His beautiful prose, ever insightful observations, and obvious high intelligence keeps the reader coming back to learn more. You can, quite literally, open it on any page, read a random paragraph, and be presented with glory! We’ll choose an arbitrary page right now. Behold!
“Only one thing surprises me more than the stupidity with which most men live their lives and that is the intelligence inherent in that stupidity."
And once again, Mr. Pessoa!
“In the end, everything is relative. A tiny incident in the street, which draws [a] restaurant cook to the door, affords him more entertainment than any I might get from the contemplation of the most original idea, from reading the best book or from the most pleasant of useless dreams. And, if life is essentially monotonous, the truth is that he has escaped from that monotony better and more easily than I. He is no more the possessor of the truth than I am, because the truth doesn’t belong to anyone; but what he does possess is happiness. The wise man makes his life monotonous, for then even the tiniest incident becomes imbued with great significance.”
Throughout he doesn’t let up, making it a fantabulous book to delve into randomly when you’re looking for inspiration on time, matter, sandwiches, and life. You can also pick up some gems to land in conversation to make you look super smart, but just remember you are in fact a thieving plagiariser who should be sued!
The Wise Person Reads Books
The Book of Disquiet is an odd one, then, but it is simply about one person’s day-to-day existence as he drifts through life wondering about the possibility of everything: Love, life, death, better places, worse places, cats, sandwiches, and why he hates seeing himself in photographs.
It’s prescient in its quiet little way, as we all go about our duties in an increasingly crowded world where you’re uncertain if the kebab shop you’ve just opened will hack it against the McDonald’s brand, or if you’re concerned because your latest half-naked Selfie only received 144 hearts on Instagram. This one’s timeless, it’s for all the ages, it’s the Book of Disquiet.