Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Forty-Nine: All the Names by Jose Saramago

If you follow my blog, you'll know I'm open to changing my mind. Such is the case this week when I decided I liked Saramago's book from last week so much, I would try another one. So this week I moved on to All the Names, which features an excellent cover (and no, you can't judge a book by its cover, but then again...).

I am again impressed by Saramago's work and will make a point of reading more of his work. In this novel we follow Senor Jose, a clerk at the Central Registry (where all births, marriages, and deaths are noted) who suddenly decides to track down a woman whose card of information strikes him for some reason. The search takes this lonely 50-something man into terrain for which he is not prepared, yet he continually finds newfound courage with every step.

Saramago's setting is unidentifiable in terms of place, time, or even reality. There is an otherworldly feel to the story, and even the Central Registry is out of touch with its own time. We know there are answering machines and cars, but the Central Registry has one phone and everything is written down by hand. The description of the Registry is fascinating in its description of order without reason, creating a head person (the Registrar) who is almost godlike in his existence.  Saramago creates an atmosphere which is dark, oppressive, and ruled by fear. This setting makes the end of the novel (which I will not reveal) even more surprising.

Have recently read Borges and reaching back in time to Kafka, there are clear echoes of both of these writers. The mystical and the absurd colliding to cast a light on our existence, depressing as it may be. In the end I cannot say "what this book is about," but I will doubtless be pondering it for sometime.

In my last blog I mentioned Saramago's writing style, which appears here as well. I found the following description of his writing in a NY Times article which sums it up well:
Saramago’s most distinctive trademark is his punctuation, or rather the lack of it. His fictions are constructed in run-on sentences disrupted by only commas, a flood of prose in which narrative observation, individuals’ thoughts and dialogue go unmarked. In addition, many of his books refer to one another, and all the characters talk exactly alike, giving their conversations the feel of an internal monologue. It is as if a continuous reel of a silent film were being projected in a movie theater that is empty save for one extremely garrulous spectator. 

You can read the Article in The New York Times if you want more, or even read their review of the book in question here:New York Times Book Review of All the Names

Saramago himself seems to be an interesting character. He starting writing late in life (his late 50s) and is a committed communist and atheist who may be one of five people left in the world thinking Stalin had the right idea. He is described as hard to like, but apparently is hard to stop talking to once he starts.

Between the two I still go with Death with Interruptions, but also recommend this work as well.

Next Up
Okay, I really don't know. Three weeks left and the last two are figured out. I'll just have to surprise you next week.

1 comment:

  1. your reviews make his writing sound so interesting - im going to have to read one of these soon.