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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lúcio's Confession

Mário de Sá-Carneiro

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To purchase Lucio's Confession

Title: Lúcio's Confession
Author: Mário de Sá-Carneiro
Genre: Novel
Written: 1913 (Eng. 1993)
Length: 121 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Lúcio's Confession - US
Lúcio's Confession - UK
Lúcio's Confession - Canada
Lúcio's Confession - India
La confession de Lúcio - France
Lúcios Bekenntnis - Deutschland
La confessione di Lucio - Italia
La confesión de Lúcio - España
  • Portuguese title: A Confissão de Lúcio
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
  • With a Foreword by Eugénio Lisboa

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever piece of fin-de-siècle decadent excess

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Lúcio's Confession begins with the narrator explaining what he wants to do in these pages:

     After spending ten years in prison for a crime I did not commit but against which I offered no defence, numb now to life and to dreams, with nothing more to hope for and no desires, I have finally come to make my confession, that is to prove my innocence.
       Confessions are one thing, proving innocence another -- and there's always the question of just how reliable a narrator Lúcio might be. What's so impressive about Sá-Carneiro's text is that he can have it all these different ways -- and not just because Lúcio is so deluded that he doesn't really grasp what he's done. Lúcio promises to stick to the absolute truth, and that his confession: "is merely a statement of fact", but even he recognizes that: "People may draw what conclusions they like from these facts" -- and that they will, and that they might put together a very different picture. Aware of this, he also notes:
For my part, I have never tried to do so. If I did, I would surely go mad.
       Arguably, of course, that ship has already sailed; nevertheless Sá-Carneiro ingeniously balances the story between sanity and madness, reality and the fantastical. Yes, this is one nutty tale, but it's so splendidly nutty that it works.
       Lúcio immediately reveals who he was convicted of killing -- Ricardo de Loureiro -- but he begins his account by describing the time before he actually met Ricardo. Studying ("or rather not studying", as he admits) law in Paris around 1895, Lúcio hangs around with Gervásio Vila-Nova -- the type who: "cut a curious figure, that of the great artist manqué, or rather, of the artist doomed to failure." Soon enough, however, Lúcio meets Ricardo, and Ricardo replaces Gervásio as favorite and companion (Gervásio conveniently fading into the background, soon enough all the way back to Portugal).
       If Gervásio was already a typical wannabe artist of the times, Ricardo is the prototypical precious fin-de-siècle aesthete. As he puts it at one point:
We are like alcohol, pure alcohol -- and like alcohol we evaporate in the flame that burns us !
       He's right to include Lúcio -- it's 'we', not just 'I' -- , who does get carried away in Ricardo's orbit -- but then, after ten months of friendship, Ricardo heads back to Lisbon, and for a year the two don't see one another and are barely in contact. (Needless to say, Lúcio doesn't report on anything that happened to him in that interim; nothing of consequence could.) In December 1897 Lúcio, too, moves back to Lisbon -- and Ricardo is there at the train station to pick him up.
       Ricardo seems to have changed, Lúcio thinks: he's more diffuse, diminished -- "everything about him, in fact, had grown more shadowy." And then, of course, there's the fact that Ricardo is now married, to a woman named Marta; Ricardo had mentioned that in a letter (but: "but only vaguely, without going into any details -- as if he were describing something unreal" ...). But they're still best buddies, and Lúcio gets along with Marta, and the first six months he's back make for: "the one blissfully happy period of my life".
       The thing is, there's something about Marta. A lot about her -- or rather: so little about her. Lúcio can't quite put his finger on it, but there are lots of unanswered questions, from where she and Ricardo met to more fundamentally, who the hell is she ? Indeed:
the woman presented herself to my eyes as someone who has no past, who had only a present !
       And sometimes not even that: one evening, while a pianist performs at Ricardo's house, Lúcio is staring at her and then:
I saw -- yes, actually saw -- the figure of Marta slowly fade away, dissolve, note by note, until she had disappeared completely. All that remained before my horrified eyes was the empty armchair.
       Oddly enough, Lúcio is the only one that has these ... issues. Though, of course, his real issue is a rather different one. And once he realizes: "I loved that woman ! I wanted her, I wanted her !", and once he begins an affair with her things get even more complicated.
       Clearly, Lúcio is in pretty deep denial, his actual passion so deeply repressed that his mind plays some very weird tricks with him. Sá-Carneiro gets pretty heavy-handed with the dropping of clues along the way as to the true nature of the situation and relationships, but the success of Lúcio's Confession lies in the fact that Lúcio himself convincingly is able to continue to convince himself of the reading he offers -- a very different one, of course, from how actual readers see the text and what's going on here.
       Things come to a head, of course, and it leads to a violent confrontation -- though one that played out, in Lúcio's mind and memory, very differently from how the police and the court reconstruct the crime. Even here Lúcio's delusion -- stretched to its absurdest limits -- refuses to be shattered, even as for the readers the last piece fall easily and obviously into place.
       Wall-to-wall over-the-top decadence, Lúcio's Confession is all purple prose and desperate, feverish denial. It's a particular type of writing, that is of course long out of style -- full of passages such as:
     Then, in a final act of perversity, she put on her veils again and hid herself, leaving only her golden vulva uncovered -- a terrible flower of flesh moving in convulsive magenta spasms.
       (Which should already be enough to remove all doubts where Sá-Carneiro is coming from (and what he's leading to).)
       Still, in it's own very peculiar way Lúcio's Confession is a quite splendid work, and probably as much fun as any decadent novel of that age.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 January 2012

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Lúcio's Confession: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author Mário de Sá-Carneiro was born in 1890 and committed suicide in 1916.

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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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