Jose Saramago – Seeing

*The following information applies to the English softcover edition (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 2004).*
  Author: Jose Saramago
Title: Seeing
 Published: April 2007

Publisher: Harcourt
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Fiction
Why I picked it up: Favourite author
Rating: 4 stars
Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

I read Blindness, the book that this one is a sequel (or perhaps the better term would be spiritual successor? It’s somewhere inbetween) to, over a year ago. I haven’t read any Saramago since then, and I’ve just realized I’ve only read four of his books. I must get on that! So, this book has been on my TBR list for awhile/ I was very delighted to find a good copy in the discount section at the only indie bookstore in my city a few weeks ago, as I’d seen copies at Chapters but they weren’t in very good condition (read: pristine, because I like my new books to be perfectly crisp). Seeing is technically a sequel to Blindness, the second half of the novel involves characters from Blindness and is sort of connected to events in Blindness (Seeing is set in the same city, four years later, and is about the relationship between government and people, a relationship that played a large role in Blindness). Seeeing, however, is a very different book from Blindness – it is clearly a political satire and not nearly as dark.
I think Seeing would translate well into a film or perhaps even a play. The dialogue is great, it flows like poetry (actually, all the prose flows like a poem, which is how Saramago can get away with his sentence structure, I believe). While it may be more long-winded than most dialogue, it stills feel sharp and cutting when necessary. I was pulled into many exchanges, such as the exchange between the captain and the Prime Minister (so intense!!) or the dialogue between the interior minister and the leader of city council re: the bombing (oh so snappy!!). I would love to see such dialogue played out by a great group of actors (the actors would be key in bringing this to life in order to capture the flow, in my opinion). A performance of the novel would definitely have a different feel but I think it would be interesting nonetheless (think A Series of Unfortunate film vs book :P).

I made a lot of little notes on this one, just notes without thoughts really: There wasn’t an obvious link to Blindness until one of the ministers, or somebody, blatantly compares the blank ballots to the time when everyone went blind, and his comparison causes a stir. I noticed one reference to a country, with a capital (!), and that was Portugal. It’s always been pretty clearly implied (to me, at least, so I’m not sure how much the text actually does imply this) that the story is set in Lisbon, but this was the first instance I could recall between either novel of a reference to the country (though it has been awhile since I read Blindness). The increased significance of periods in a novel where commas rule (ex. pg 114 near the bottom). Passages I liked: The interrogation pg. 37 and 38 and the how it was handled follow-up pg. 46), the PM’s plan as described on pg 66. Lines I liked:

The hour of departure, which would be simultaneous, that is, the same for everyone, was three o’clock in the morning, a time when only the seriously insomniac are still tossing and turning in their beds and saying prayers to the god hypnos, the son of night and twin brother of thanatos, to help them in their affliction by dropping on their poor, bruised, eyelids the sweet balm of the poppy. (pg 70)

…it would be as well to explain that the use of the word blanker a few lines earlier was neither accidental nor fortuitous, nor was it a slip of the fingers on the computer keyboard, and it certainly isn’t a neologism that the narrator has hastily invented in order to fill a gap. (pg 106)

You kept your sight when everyone else was blind (pg. 218, pointedly gets the message of the novel across, I thought).

 The ending felt like a wake-up slap in the face, even though I was expecting something like it. I was pretty shaken up. I took a little bit after I finished the book to process what Saramago might have been trying to say, what might have happened after the book finished. (This paragraph is purposefully ambiguous to avoid spoilers..haha as if I need to worry about spoiling this for someone). And. Blah. I’m sleepy. This has been a lazy ‘review’…Time for bed now. 
 

Books I Read During Exams

Here’s what I read while rushing through exams and final papers this month…

  • Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
    • Published: October 2011
    • Genre: Non-fiction/auto-biography
    • Why I picked it up: Read a review, sounded interesting
    • Rating: 3 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • I read this book for something a bit lighter than The Dodecahedron (see below). Not a whole lot to say.
      • The subject matter was interesting, but I’m not sure if I was a big fan of the structure of the book. Lots and lots and lots of snippets and anecdotes and little stories. It did feel somewhat disjointed at times, and when I was only halfway through the book (~150 pages) I felt like I had read a lot and how could there be another 150 pages to go? 
      • But like I said, the subject matter was interesting. I know very little about prison life, so i twas interesting to read a book from the perspective a young Jewish college grad running the prison library. (My favourite part of this book was imagining the author in the scenarios he described. Just take a look at his author pic…a very cute guy but picture him in a prison! Hee. This is something touched upon quite a bit in the book but once you see his photo it really comes to life. 😛 )
      • Worth a read if you’ve got any interest in prison libraries, but otherwise don’t worry too much if you miss this one.
  • The Dodecahedron by Paul Glennon
    • Published: September 2005
    • Genre: Conceptual fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Read a blogger’s review, sounded interesting
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • Sometime in late 2010, probably in December, I discovered book blogging. I went browsing through a lot of blogs, trying to find the ones that appealed to me. One of the blogs I looked at reviewed Canadian fiction, something I feel obliged to read more of since I am a Canadian (unfortunately that doesn’t mean I actually do read more Canadian fiction…my real rule is read whatever the heck I want). Anyhow. I can’t remember the blog and I can’t remember what the review said, but it made me take note of this book. I finally got around to reading it over the last couple of weeks!
      • I believe this is the first conceptual novel I have ever read. Most conceptual fiction I’ve encountered has been through university courses, where we looked at a text that was a list of alphabetical answers to a Rorschach test. For me, conceptual fiction was something totally abstract and out there, so I was impressed by the readability of The Dodecahedron. I mean, I didn’t even remember it was a conceptual book at heart until I signed it out from the library and took a closer look at it. The novel is made up of twelve short stories, all told in distinctive styles from distinctive perspectives. A variety of themes/motifs carry throughout the book – the title of the novel refers to number of stories and the points at which each connects – each story shares five points with another, some extremely subtle (I don’t think I noticed all five connections in any story) and others more obvious (the early exploration of America). I absolutely love things like this. That feeling you get when you realize you’ve read about that before, when you realize how the stories are connected. I think it was a really neat concept that was executed well.
        • A reader on GoodReads shared this fantastic chart which might perhaps defeat the whole purpose of the novel – after all, I think the reader should piece these things together on their own, see how things work, through multiple readings if necessary. But honestly, it would be pretty impressive for anyone to map out all connections on their own and, what the heck, I’m a sucker for reading ‘supplement’s like this. Pretty neat! 
      • It took a little bit for me to get into this book, but once I understood how it ‘works’ and what to expect, I settled in no problem.
      • Most of the stories were intriguing and well-written, despite the variety of genres and styles. One of my favourites was ‘The Polygamist’. I forgot I was reading a collection of short stories and I was getting pulled into this character’s story so much so that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read his whole story! (Er, ‘whole’ is not the appropriate term here. I wanted to read more of his tale.) The following couple of stories fell flat for me, but I can’t say whether that was in comparison to the story I adored so much or because of their own nature. 
      • Another favourite was ‘The Last Story’ which was, coincidentally, the last story – Glennon notes that the collection-cum-novel could have started with any tale. The end of the story had me laughing out loud at the post-modernity of it all – could Glennon actually have asked for those stories in an airport and gotten such an answers/
      • Other favourites: ‘In My Father’s Library’, ‘Why Are There No Penguins?’ and  ‘Kepler’s Orbit – Chapter 1: The Interrogation’. 
      • A final closing note: I wanted to purchase this book so I when I was near the bookstore, I popped in to check if it was on the shelf but no luck. When I was at a used bookstore a few days later, looking for something else, I walked past the Canadian Literature section and thought ‘What the heck, I might as well check if they have it’ and surprisingly they did! 🙂 I was able to purchase it for $10; I walked out of the store very happy (I never find the books I need at used bookstores XP). 

Extra Books – April 1 to 7

  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by  Sam Wasson
    • Published: 2010
    • Genre: Non-fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Interested in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • My Thoughts:
      • I read the book Breakfast at Tiffany’s almost a year ago and enjoyed it (click here for my thoughts) but astonishingly I have yet to see the movie. Some day soon, I hope! I’ve never really been interested in older films, but that Audrey Hepburn…I want to see some of her movies, haha.
      • The tone of this book was interesting – I was expecting more of a journalist’s POV, reporting on the movie, but it was more like a novelized article, if that makes any sense. I think the tone is maybe part of the reason why the book felt so quick-paced and how I was able to read it in a day.
      • Obviously, a major part of the tone stemmed from the point of view. I thought it was really neat how he wrote from the ‘characters’ (i.e. the actors, designers, Capote, director, etc.) POV. He provides an awesome list of sources (awesome to me at least, a fan of all things meta :P) that explains how he chose the views he wrote from. An example:
        •  “Audrey was worried. They all said she could do it, that playing Holly would be a challenge, but that like everything else, it would come naturally to her. Naturally, they said naturally. In Roman Holiday, they said she was so lovely and natural, and then gave her the Academy Award. But that wasn’t acting, not like the Patricia Neal kind that made you really think and really feel. Now there, she believed, was a real actress. Pat could play anything, but Audrey, sitting in a yellow cab, waiting for Blake Edwards to call action, just had intuition. Intuition and luck.” 
        • Sourced from interviews conducted with Patricia Neal, other journalists who documented Audrey’s worry, etc.
      • The prose was really easy to read. It was elegant and engaging, I particularly liked how Wasson incorporated this quote from Capote: “If each of his swans, as Truman would write, was an artist ‘whose sole creation was her perishable self,’ then surely babe was a masterpiece.” 
      • This passage also gives you an example of what the writing style is like:
        •  “So what happens when the tables are turned and the woman wears black? In the nineteenth century, when women would often stay in all black for years after their husbands’ deaths, it was a surefire sign of widowhood. To the men passing by, it signified the wearer’s knowledge of sex. it meant experience. No wonder the flappers of the 1920s were so drawn to it.” (pg 127-128)
      • Recommended for fans of the book or the movie, or both, and of course fans of Hepburn 🙂

Sarah Gruen – Water for Elephants

  Author: Sarah Gruen
Title:Water for Elephants
 Published: May 2006

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 331 pages
Genre: ‘Historical’ fiction
Why I picked it up: Heard a lot about it, who doesn’t like a book about a circus?
Rating: 3 stars
Buy:  IndieBound |  Chapters | Check your local bookstore!



***SPOILERS THROUGHOUT***

Surprisingly, this book was exactly what I expected. I might have had slightly higher wishes, as I had wished it would be better than expected, but it turned out to be exactly what I was prepared.

The characters were pretty blah. What was the appeal of Marlena?? She was dull, dull, dull, aside from her shiny sequins (I guess that was her appeal). Jacob was kind of sweet, but in an almost too-naive way. August was perhaps the most ‘colourful’ but any character with schizophrenia is going to turn out that way. Oops, was that a spoiler? That leads to my other point…the story was terribly predictable. Nothing surprised me. Was that point about August being a paranoid schizophrenic supposed to be a twist? It was plain to me that he was going to be ‘revealed’ to have some sort of mental instability, that he wasn’t just ‘evil’. I am a little concerned about how that disease is portrayed. I am very unfamiliar with it, as most people are, my only contact being through fictional entertainment such as this book, and I wonder how accurate, if it all, August’s infliction was.  Back to story predictability. That twist at the end – ha! Not a twist for me. I just assumed I had read the prologue wrong and missed where Rosie was implied as the ‘murderer’, but when I went back and read it, I realized I hadn’t, that the prologue hadn’t actually said who killed August. It didn’t surprise me or seem quite as  horrible as Jacob made it out to be, it seemed logical that Rosie would that.

All the sex/sexual scenes and events seemed kind of out of place for me. They didn’t really add anything to the story, just made it slightly more graphic and ‘adult’. I suppose they were intended to illustrate Jacob’s ‘growing up’, but did we really need to see Jacob walk in on Kinko masturbating? Haha…no, it wasn’t even funny. I dunno, it all seemed a little pointless.

I wasn’t expecting the framing of the old man looking back on life, but I liked it. It added an extra dimension to a rather dimensionless story. I found elder Jacob’s position quite sad, really, who wouldn’t? I noticed some reviews couldn’t reconcile young Jacob with old Jacob, but I found the differences quite understandable and realistic. It was heartbreaking to read the perspective of a man who realizes he’s going to die any time and that his mind is moving on. Despite the unbelievable ending, it was what any reader would have wished for Jacob, and since I wasn’t expecting great literary things from this book, I’ll buy it. It was sweet, if incredulous.

Despite all that, I devoured this book. I read it in two sittings (not counting the times when I read half a dozen pages between class or while waiting for the bus), one of those sittings being late into the night after work – I haven’t done that for so long! (I think I mostly wanted a break from writing papers and studying for exams.) I knew pretty well what would happen next but I still wanted to see it unfold. I still wanted to read about the circus, even though its depiction was not nearly as colourful or imaginative as the last circus I read about in The Night Circus (granted, that book had a lot of fantasy, but such lovely descriptive prose could have easily been translated and adapted to a ‘normal’ circus, such as this one in Water for Elephants). Really, the draw for me was the circus drama even though it wasn’t anything special or daring or different. So I guess that’s a point for this book. Even though it was so-so, it managed to draw me in.

 I am kind of interested in seeing the movie. I remember being intrigued when I first saw the trailer, and thinking “Wow, is that  Pattinson?! I always knew he could be attractive.” (;P) I suspect he might be good for that role, and that it would be a decently entertaining movie, probably on the same level as the book but in it’s own way (I wouldn’t expect any improved chemistry between the leads, I just want to see a circus come to life…could be a decent way to tune out for a couple of hours). Final impression: An alright book if you’re looking for some very light, unspectacular reading.