Thursday, January 24, 2013

first book of 2013: "Death with Interruptions"

 This cover design wasn't used for the U.S. edition, but it's lovely!

      What if death was no longer a fact of life? In an unnamed country, the unthinkable happens: no one dies. Initial jubilation about eternal life gives way to a great deal of fretting and machinations by a variety of groups, ranging from undertakers, government officials, religious leaders, and nursing-home operators. None of these folks escape being skewered by Saramago's sharp eye and keener prose; he loves showing how fallible and self-serving such institutions can be. Meanwhile, families face the tough choice of letting the once-terminally ill linger on indefinitely, neither getting better nor worse, or crossing the border in secrecy to let the ill meet death.
      Speaking of meeting death - one of the best parts of this novel is that we readers get to meet death, too. Saramago's characterization of death (small d, please, she takes that seriously) is tender and whimsical. death likes to send all of her important correspondence on violet stationery, talks to her scythe, and makes impulsive decisions.
        This is the third book of Saramago's that I've read. The first book was "All the Names," which holds a special place as one of my all-time favorite novels. Then I struggled through "Blindness," which took multiple attempts to complete. It seems that's one of his more popular novels, but stories about apocalypse/utter breakdowns of society really unsettle me.  One event in that novel, in particular, horrified me so much that I'd stop reading there. It's not a novel that I want to reread, but I am interested in exploring his other works.
         Saramago's writing style takes a little bit of adjustment; he eschews quotation marks and embraces long sentences. I ended up reading the first several dozen pages out loud to myself and found that it really helped me get into the story. Reading out loud was particularly helpful when untangling dialogue. His books are not breezy beach reads, but if you enjoy reading slowly and carefully, a bit at a time, Saramago will make you laugh, wince in recognition, think, feel deeply, and wonder.
        I was working on a favorite books of 2012 post as the year wrapped up, but then the stomach superbug hit our household at New Year's, and the post has been languishing in my drafts. Guess I'm not giving up procrastination after all this year ... but I'll be posting it before the month ends. (Because I'm just an early birdy like that ... )


  1. Do you think he was influenced by Neil Gaiman's Sandman series (for his portrayal of Death)? I was going to ask the same about the concept of "no death" via the last Torchwood series, but this book came first.

  2. This sounds like a really interesting book...I love book recommendations :)


    The Other Side of Gray

  3. Oooh - good question, Erin! I haven't read the Sandman series in years (and my sister and I stupidly donated the entire paperback set while cleaning out our family home before its sale. We still wish we hadn't done it!) I suppose that now I will just have to check the series out from the library and see how they compare. Saramago writes in Portuguese, so I'm not sure whether he would have been exposed to Gaiman's work, but it's an interesting idea I need to investigate.

  4. Thanks, Annie! I love book recommendations too ... there are so many books out there, it's nice to hear what someone else thought about a book. :)

  5. I'm going to have to go find this book, it sounds so interesting! (And I need a new books, I think I've re-read everything in the house multiple times by now.)
    I understand what you mean about his other book though, I got half-way through Gone Baby, Gone and had to put it down, I was so freaked out and disgusted by it. (It was recommend to me a great book, very thrilling and it was just too traumatizing to finish. My dad and husband tried to read it after me and they ran into the same thing, half way through they had to put it down because it was so horrible and disturbing.) I always like the survivor aspect of Apocalypse books but there are some that get into the same territory just really vile and awful to read.

  6. I've heard good things about Lehane, but what you said about that particular novel has convinced me that I don't need to read it. :p It's interesting to consider why people stop reading a novel. For instance, I loaned a friend my copy of Graham Salisbury's "The Eyes of the Emperor" (YA novel about Japanese-American soldiers during WWII), and she said she couldn't finish it because she was so upset about how the soldiers had been treated. It's not an easy or light novel, because Salisbury shows vividly how much discrimination the soldiers encountered, but it is an important novel because he covers an aspect of their experience that is not well-known.


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