*The following information applies to the English softcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 2002). *
Author: Jose Saramago
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
Title: The Double
Date read: 1 December to 7 December
Published: August 2012
Publisher: Harcourt Books
Length: 324 pages
Genre: Magical realism
Another Saramago book! This one I didn’t pick up for any particular reason…I found a copy in the discount books section at my independent bookstore so I bought it.
One of the aspects of Saramago’s writing I love is his ability to expand on a notion, pulling on threads to see where they go, even (especially!) if they lead to a only marginally related tangent. Not everyone will be a fan of this style. I know I wouldn’t tolerate it, this chasing after every little thing and expanding on minute irrelevant details, unless it was done well – I find Saramago is one of those writers who can pull it off.
I also think Saramago can be a very good example of the only writing rule I consider to be steadfast but often necessarily broken (oh, isn’t that nice contradition…) – ‘show don’t tell’. I marked a passage near the start of the book where Tertuliano is changing out of his work clothes:
…pulled a sweater on over his shirt, but left his tie, because he didn’t like his to leave his throat exposed, then went into the kitchen. [Pg 9]
Now that I’ve typed it out, perhaps this is actually a better example of showing and telling. Saramago shows us the tie is left on and tells us why, but both of those points combine into a larger instance of showing something about Tertuliano’s character. This is what I like.
I enjoyed the inclusion of Tertuliano’s common sense as a character who crops up every now and then, adding something a little different and unique to the story, giving it a bit more flavour. (I didn’t mark it, but a piece of dialogue between the two made me laugh: Tertuliano: Well, I will see you later, Common Sense: Oh, I doubt it).
[Tertuliano starts] Well, it seems to me that common sense has a very chauvinistic way of expressing itself, That’s not my fault, it’s just the way I was made, That’s hardly a good excuse from someone who does nothing but offer advice and opinions, But I’m not always wrong, This sudden rush of modesty suits you, Look, I would be better than I am, more efficient, more useful, if you helped me, Who, All of you, men and women, after all, common sense is just a ind of arithmetic mean that rises and falls according to the tide…[Pg 224]
Last point: I read a review on Goodreads that compared Saramago to Haruki Murakami, another one of my favourite authors. I don’t think I would have noticed the similarity if someone had not suggested it, but I think I would agree. The story is relatively mundane, with the extraordinary being handled in a very ordinary way. Notably, this review made the comparison in a disparaging manner, arguing that Saramago merely replaced Murakami’s tropes with his own. I wouldn’t think so. Saramago has a very distinct style and I think this sort of story fits with what he writes – it doesn’t seem out of character or like he was trying something different. The story felt naturally Saramago; similarities to Murakami being coincidence. That being said, I think the two (Murakami’s overall body of work and Saramago’s The Double) are rather similar in how I felt about the plot – a bit dry and dull and lengthy in the middle, with an exciting final 50 pages or so turning around how I felt about this book. Everything really came together towards the end and that’s why I’m giving this book 3.5 instead of 2.5. If you manage to stick with it (though I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), then it is a good read!