There is no perfect reader. Each reader recreates a book while reading it — that’s what makes reading such an intimate, singular experience. I’m often surprised by readers who show me things in my work that I hadn’t noticed while I was writing it.
Do you keep a diary?
Yes, I have done for more than 20 years. It helps me a huge amount with my writing. I’ve never had a good memory. Often when I’m reading back over my diary I feel as though I’m snooping around in somebody else’s life. I steal a lot of ideas from my diary.
Can you give us a taste of your longlisted novel A General Theory of Oblivion?
It's a book about the fear of the other - and how ridiculous this is. In the book I tell the story of a Portuguese lady who after independence isolates herself in her apartment, in Luanda, as though she were on a desert island, for thirty years. She is only saved when she finally understands the stupidity of this gesture and surrenders herself to others. To the apparent ‘enemy’. Then she becomes a part of this other world.
A General Theory of Oblivion is set on the on the eve of Angolan independence. How did you research your novel?
I worked as journalist for a long time. During that time I learned how to approach people, and that has helped me as a writer. In order to write this book I talked particularly to people who had experienced things that are close to some of those I've described. It's common in Angola to start off talking to someone about a given subject, and then some other subject emerges, or some other piece of information, which is much more interesting. However, this book is an exercise in imagination. It didn't demand as much research as other books have done.
Your novel examines the troubled past of Angola through the life of a woman locked away from the world. Why did you choose this detached perspective?
I thought it would be interesting to have a distant observer, like an apathetic God, someone who could watch the whirlpool of history as though looking down on it from a balcony.
The novel’s patchwork structure is a perfect reflection of conflicting and shifting allegiances and stories. How did you decide on this structure and the inclusion of poems?
The novel’s structure arises for me as the plot progresses. In this case it was slightly different, however, in that I had previously written a screenplay. I wrote the novel with recourse, partly, to the structure of that screenplay. From a certain point it became clear to me that the novel needed this poetic madness. A certain mystery and uneasiness that poetry and bring with it. Because the main character demands this. She is a disturbed person. At the same time, she’s also a person possessed by the spirit of poetry.
Luanda is one of the main characters of the novel. How has Luanda influenced your writing?
If it weren’t for Luanda, I might never have become a writer. Luanda is an extraordinary setting, a place where the most brutal reality and the most delirious imagination merge noisily together. It’s a big, tough city, where you can still find magical thinking with rural origins. In the streets of Luanda you’ll come across adventurers from all over the world mixing with farmers, ex-soldiers and guerrilla fighters, sorcerers, diamond traffickers, mercenaries, etc. It’s a whole catalogue of characters.