Wednesday, October 01, 2008

New this Week: Death With Interruptions by José Saramago

The following day, no one died. This fact, being absolutely contrary to life’s rules, provoked enormous and, in the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in people’s minds, for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary case, of such a phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty-four hours, diurnal and nocturnal, matutinal and vespertine, without one death from illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one, not a single one.
So begins Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago’s most recent novel and though that may not be the longest second sentence in a book in history, it’s probably in the top ten. Yet somehow -- curiously, skillfully, exquisitely -- that seemingly meandering and overlong collection of words manages to sum up the main concern in Death With Interruptions (Harcourt) even while it sets the frenetic and relentless pace to come. And whatever else that sentence is, one thing is certain: like Death With Interruptions itself, it is pure Saramago.

It should perhaps not be astonishing that a writer in his 85th year takes a run at death. In fact, Death With Interruptions could just as easily be called Death Takes A Holiday. More: Saramago has been a self-described communist, atheist and pessimist since at least the 1960s. His work and views are so controversial that the writer and his family moved to the Canary Islands many years ago. This is perhaps why Saramago’s work is always so deeply original: with everything torn away, he comes to his thoughts from new angles and fresh perspectives. The resulting books are often mentally challenging, but they are always deeply interesting.

And, while we’re talking about Saramago, fans should take note: a large screen version of the author’s 1995 book, Blindness, and made under the direction of Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) will be released this fall.

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