Another fresh pick, Fim (The End) by Fernanda Torres was published by Companhia das Letras on November 12. I was so excited to read this, but equally nervous. Fernanda Torres is an award-winning actress, the daughter of Brazilian cinema and theater royalty, and has built an incredible career both on stage and on screen. She's proven her chops in dramatic roles, but she can also totally crack me up. I spent a lot of my early days in Brazil watching episodes of her sitcom, Os Normais. She's written a play, and has recently been writing for Piauí, Brazil's version of the New Yorker, but this is her first book. Was this one more in Companhia das Letras’ string of novels written by celebrities (including Tony Bellotto, Vanessa da Mata or ol' olhos azuis, Chico Buarque)? After the first couple of pages, all fears washed away and I was hooked. Hilarious, often sad, it is an extremely well written and touching book.
Fimoriginally started as a short story, after a request from film director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, Blindness) for a project that ultimately never came to fruition. The book is about five aging, middle class friends in Rio de Janeiro: Alvaro, Ciro, Neto, Ribeiro and Silvio. It is told through a series of first person, interior monologues, interspersed with third-person narrative. Each of these main characters narrates one stream-of-consciousness chapter, which includes the moments leading up to and including their own death.
The book opens with Alvaro, the last of the group to die. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, increasingly frustrated and exhausted by the aging process. Next we meet Silvio, a party animal until the very end. A beach bum and swimming instructor, Ribeiro is the perpetual bachelor of the group who never married or had children. Neto was the straight-laced family man, faithfully married his entire life. Ciro, a lawyer, is the final character introduced and the first of the group to die. After his shocking behavior towards his wife alienates him from everyone but Silvio, he is diagnosed with terminal cancer in his fifties, and ultimately dies alone. In addition to the main characters, we also learn a great deal about the various people (mostly women) orbiting the men’s lives, both past and present: wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, lovers, and children.
Fim is driven much more by all these characters than by any incident or pattern of events. Fernanda really nails these characters. The characters themselves have a shared past, but are ultimately very different individuals. It was amazing to me how Fernanda not only successfully managed to give each of the main characters a distinct, clear (and male) voice, but also how well she wrote in the first person. The stories are not chronological, and the narration jumps from past to present and back again. We therefore end up learning about the same events from several players, filling in information as the book goes along. The same stories begin to overlap, told from numerous perspectives, and the reader sees that not everything is how it seems.
There are no lessons being taught, no flowery prose–Fernanda's prose is lean without being minimalist, retaining all the color and brightness that makes Rio so special. The end result is literary without trying to be–just solid writing that pulses forward, giving the reader pause to reflect, laugh a little and even daydream about Rio in the 70s. Just as in Fernanda’s acting career, she shows she can handle dense drama with the same deftness as bawdy humor. She feels firmly in charge, and it never feels like a first novel. I will bet that this book will be a bestseller in Brazil on her name alone, but I suspect it could also have done well under a pen name.
More about the author: Fernanda Torres was born in Rio de Janeiro. Her career in the theater, cinema and on TV spans over 35 years. She won the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. She is a columnist for the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, Veja Rio magazine and a regular contributor to Piauí magazine. Fim is her first novel.
You can visit her website here. And here's a video of Fernanda reading from the book: