Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jose Saramago

I've just finished José Saramago's Death with Interruptions, a novel which I didn't consider as strong as Blindness, but which I felt, nevertheless, accomplished what it set out to do: which is to transform death into a human experience.

Like Blindness, which captures the shock of a community confronting a sudden plague of sightlessness, Death with Interruptions takes as its subject a cataclysmic shift: in a remote nation, death takes a holiday, and for seven months, not a single member of this country expires.

The first half of the novel depicts the immediate social, political, and economic effects of this unprecedented situation. Saramago appears particularly interested at this point, however, in the economy - the economics - of death, and goes to considerable lengths to remind us of the industry surrounding our own transience.

The second half of the novel, which flows from death's reemergence, follows a cellist, whose expiration date, as it were, has passed without consequence. It was this part of the book which, I felt, was most effective in terms of Saramago's ability to capture death both as a process as well as a figure (that is, Death writ large).

All told, I enjoyed this novel, but didn't feel it as penetrating (or frightening) as Blindness. I think this is a result, as I suggest, of Saramago's reluctance - in the first half of the book - to follow a character, or set of characters, as they navigate death's departure. In Blindness, the opposite is the case, as we follow a single woman's journey through horror itself.

It's interesting, Saramago's fascination with crisis - if only because it serves to reinforce the power, and permanence, of humanity.

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