Monday, 16 November 2009

Death at Intervals

Title: Death at Intervals

Author: Jose Saramago

Number of pages: 196

Started: 12 November 2009

Finished: 16 November 2009

Opening words:

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 phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty-four hours, diurnal and nocturnal, without one death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one, not a single one.

Plot summary:

On the first day of the New Year, no one dies. This understandably causes great consternation amongst religious leaders - if there's no death, there can be no resurrection and therefore no reason for religion - and what will be the effect on pensions, the social services, hospitals? Funeral directors are reduced to arranging funerals for dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots. Life insurance policies become meaningless. Amid the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration: flags are hung out on balconies and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity - eternal life. But will death's disappearance benefit the human race, or will this sudden abeyance backfire? How long can families cope with malingering elderly relatives who scratch at death's door while the portal remains firmly shut? Then, seven months later, death returns, heralded by purple envelopes informing the recipients that their time is up. Death herself is now writing personal notes giving one week's notice. However, when an envelope is unexpectedly returned to her, death begins to experience strange, almost human emotions. In his new novel, Jose Saramago again turns the world on its head - an everyday event is snatched away, and humankind is left to make of it what it will.

What I thought:

This was a good read. This is the second book by Jose Saramago that I have read, so I was rather more prepared for his complete unwillingness to follow most grammatical rules (which can be very inconvenient if you are travelling on the tube and desperately hoping for a full stop to appear, as you will be at your stop imminently). I like his choice of topics, this time that death stops – and then recommences some time letter with death herself sending letters to people telling them that they have one week left to live.

I like that Saramago questions his own plots and either offers an explanation for things that are perhaps stretching credibility a bit too much or just says the equivalent of “you’ll just have to trust me on that one”. You can almost hear the author thinking and putting together the plot and playing about with the ethical dilemmas and plot devices. His book are bizarre but satisfying reads.


Sarah said...

I would go with bizarre, but satisfying? I had a bit of a problem with that because, although I enjoyed the read, I was disappointed that I didn't understand the ending.

I was wondering whether the conclusion seemed to make sense to you, or whether you were able to accept that the ideas were the crucial thing. (I can do this with some books, but somehow not this one.)

Anonymous said...

THink I read a review of this book on Sarah's blog a couple of months back, and was intrigued.

Bizarre but satisfying piques the curiosity much!

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - I did find it quite satisfying, I felt that Saramago saw the potential flaws in his writing and addressed the issues - perhaps it worked for me as that is sort of what I do at work.

I think the conclusion made sense, although it is kind of difficult to discuss without giving the plot away for any potential future readers... I thought it worked out as a plot though and made sense. Having said that, I often read books so fast that I entirely miss fairly major pieces of plot, so might entirely have misunderstood it!

anothercookiecrumbles - You are correct, it is Sarah's review that prompted me to track down a copy and so I read it as a direct result of Sarah reading it.

I think his style might be an acquired taste for some!