Monday, June 22, 2009

I'll have a Double please, Mr Saramago

Just finished Portuguese author José Saramago's The Double. One of those whizz-bang cowboy endings that I don't often find in the sort of books I read. Loved it. Loved the ending. Loved the book.

It's a fabulous tale in the sense of being a fable: a history teacher sees a man with a bit part in an old movie who is his identical twin. This sense that he is not unique in the world - and could in fact be simply a duplicate - eats away at the history teacher causing all sorts of crazy non-history teacher type behaviour.
Naturally enough, he stalks the bit-part actor and crashes his way into his mirror life with dire consequences - which is, I've discovered, usually what happens in literature when 'doubles' come together [I've been reading this sort of thing to inform my novel Precarious - Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was my last 'doubles' read. ]

Saramago's novel is a wild blend of meta-fiction, philosophy, black comedy and farce. Here's a pic of some of that lovely meta-fictional stuff where the author steps out and comments on what he's just written about the thoughts of the history teacher who bears the marvellous name: Tertuliano Maximo Afonso.
The voice of The Double becomes increasingly obsessive and the novel reflects this - going for page after page with no paragraph or line breaks and with the dialogue running on from person to person without speech marks or new lines, not even a full-stop.
As you'd expect with an obsessive voice in your head for nearly 300 pages, it can get irritating and exhausting at times, but it is worth persevering because this novel is a tour de force. As a reader you are - for better or worse - right inside the heads of the history teacher and the bit-part actor and it's a weird weird place to be. Highly recommended.
I am very interested in reading more of the Nobel Prize-winning Saramago's work including Blindness, which has been made into a film. A fascinating insight into the author here on the Nobel website, including the issues he has had with identity himself.

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