As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo's life of sequestration through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers.
Looping through a series of spirographic circles, Agualusa's narrative draws the story of Ludo's self-confinement into the starry revolving sphere of her adopted country's revolutionary and counterrevolutionary growing pains, encompassing diamond smugglers, government assassin/torturers, disappearing poets and redeemed mercenaries within its scintillating web … An outlandishly orchestrated series of coincidences brings all the revolving characters together into a confrontation outside Ludo's recently opened door, yet the resulting resonances are as profound and affecting as that in any conventional flesh-and-blood chronicle … Agualusa is a master of varied genre structure, and he has great fun shifting from spy novel to pastoral narrative to interior reflection, but his heart is deeply invested in his characters.
At the center of Theory is Ludovica Fernandes Mano — Ludo — a native of Portugal with longstanding agoraphobia...an incident she thinks of simply as ‘The Accident’ cements her unwillingness to venture outdoors … Interspersed with what sometimes feels like a fever dream of Ludo’s survival inside her castle walls are the swirling stories of the people and events in the streets and halls just outside. The tales may seem random and disconnected, but Agualusa is a master storyteller who doesn’t bother to introduce a character or mention an incident unless it has a larger role to play … It’s a tribute to Agualusa’s storytelling that the bittersweet redemption found by his characters feels authentic; he and they have earned it.
A General Theory Of Oblivion begins on the eve of Angolan independence and tells the story of Ludo, an exiled Portuguese who, alarmed by events, bricks herself into her apartment and stays there till it's all over, 28 years later … Angola's civil war became a proxy for various global conflicts and A General Theory Of Oblivion provides occasional primers...thus the uninitiated can keep track of events, even learn a bit of history, as they read. Ludo, on the other hand, becomes ever less aware: the batteries in her radio fail and she must make her own sense of the incidents she sees in the street … Agualusa has many a good story here: the 37 chapters work as standalone shorts, while intertwining and coming together at the end.