Bernardo Carvalho is a Brazilian novelist, journalist, and playwright, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. In addition to Aberração, a collection of short stories, he has written ten novels, most recently Reprodução. His work has been translated into ten languages. His play BR-3, written for the experimental Teatro da Vertigem, was staged on the Tietê river, in São Paulo, and on boats in the bay of Rio. His latest play, Dire ce qu’on ne pens pas dans des langues qu’on ne parle pas, will have its world première at the Théâtre National in Brussels, in May 2014.
McSWEENEY’S: So how did you approach the idea of writing a crime story? Did you start with a character, or a particular situation, or something else?
BERNARDO CARVALHO: At some point a while back I began writing a love story between a lawyer and his client, but I gave it up pretty quickly. I thought that maybe I could come back to that situation from another point of view for my story here. I’d say that, more than the character or the situation, I was intrigued by the idea of playing with the addressee’s ambiguity. The monologue that makes up the story is addressed to some mastermind of organized crime, but it could also be seen as directed at the reader.
McSWEENEY’S: We asked you for a story set in Brazil. How much did you think about that, as you were working on this? Do you think a story like this can tell us something about a particular place, or a particular country?
BERNARDO CARVALHO: One of the most famous gang leaders in Brazil, who has been kept for years in a high-security prison, used to brag about his love for Dante’s Inferno. I was struck by that image—he used to pose with the book by his side. I can’t explain exactly why, but I feel like it says a lot about Brazil, a country with very high illiteracy and an uneducated elite: this mastermind of organized crime posing with Dante’s Inferno in his prison cell, as a kind of provocation. It is, at the same time, very idiotic—he’s very vain, and his actions speak to his simpleton’s idea of power—but it’s also disturbing.
McSWEENEY’S: Is there a Brazilian author, or a particular Brazilian book, or even a movie or a TV show, that you think takes on the genre particularly well?
BERNARDO CARVALHO: I think the best genre writers are those who reinvent the genre. And I think that Rubem Fonseca has re-created the crime story in Brazil, against a backdrop of extreme social violence and dictatorship in the late sixties and seventies, with a very peculiar and "local” style of his own.
McSWEENEY’S: There’s a character in your story, a man we never see, who believes that justice has nothing to do with the truth—that it’s just “theatrics, rhetoric, and acting.” Where did that idea come from?
BERNARDO CARVALHO: From a Janet Malcolm book or article. I can’t remember which.
McSWEENEY’S: Your story is composed of one long monologue by the secretary of public safety. How did you decide on that approach? And do you have a favorite monologue, in literature?
BERNARDO CARVALHO: I’ve been working a lot with the theater lately. My last published novel is made up of dialogues without interlocutors—they become weird, allusive, and “incomplete” monologues. It seemed only natural to me to write this story as a monologue. It’s a very theatrical form. And it has to do, also, with that idea of justice being only theatrics, rhetoric, and acting: the idea that if you tell the simple truth in court, you never win.
As far as favorite monologues go, I’m a fan of Thomas Bernhard’s books. You could say that all of them are variations on a certain kind of idiosyncratic, spiraling monologue.