Jose Saramago – Death With Interruptions

 *The following information applies to the English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 2005). Also, the edition of the book I read doesn’t have the skull on the cover.*

Author: Jose Saramago
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa

Title: Death With Interruptions
Published: 2008
Publisher: Harcourt
Length: 238 pages
Genre: Magic realism, hypothetical fiction
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: I enjoy the author’s writing style
Rating: 4.5 stars

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I liked this book as much as I liked the one I previously read by the same author, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Although both novels are very different with regards to the type of story that is being told, I enjoyed them both equally.

Of course, one of the main reason I liked Death With Interruptions is because of Saramago’s unique writing style, the main feature of which is winding sentences and a lack of punctuation. I just had to mark this passage, in which a grammarian is criticizing the style of writing of a certain letter.

  …but that could be forgiven, one could even consider it a minor defect given the chaotic syntax, the absence of full stops, the complete lack of very necessary parentheses, the obsessive elimination of paragraphs, the random use of commas and, most unforgivable sin of all, the intentional and almost diabolical abolition of the capital letter, which, can you imagine, is even omitted from the actual signature of the letter and replaced by a lower-case d.

I wrote in my previous review of the interesting perspective of whoever is narrating the story. That perspective continues to crop up occasionally within this novel.

We humbly recognize that our explanations about this and much more have been sadly lacking, we confess that we are unable to provide explanations that will satisfy those demanding them, unless, taking advantage of the reader’s credulity and leaping over the respect owed to the logic of events, we were to add further unrealities to the congenital unreality of this fable…

One of the differences I noticed between this novel and the one about Jesus was the dialogue felt a lot different. Perhaps this was just me, but it felt a lot more natural and seemed to flow more like I was hearing the conversation instead of reading. This could be because I’ve gotten more used to the style. But it felt different (thought certainly not worse!) nonetheless.

I think I’ve said enough about the writing style. As opposed to the last Saramago novel I chose (I chose it because of the premise), I chose this one for the writing style but of course, the story itself was very much up to par. The first half of the novel examines how a fictional country deals when humans suddenly stop dying, which in itself made for a very fun and thoughtful read. The second half follows death (the character) as she becomes intrigued by a man who refuses to die. Both ‘stories’ were very original and creative. I wasn’t expecting the ending at all, which was a nice surprise because that rarely happens for me! I finished the book with a very satisfied feeling.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I would say I have only one complaint to note, but oddly enough it doesn’t feel like a complaint to me. The second half of the book revolves around a man who won’t die, even when death has started killing again. The reason why he will not die is never explained. This did not feel like a letdown, though. I didn’t even realize it had not been explained until I started to think of book a few days later and thought to myself, ‘Hey, how come that guy wouldn’t die?’ This omission might bother some people, but it did not bother me.

I started this book just before November and finished it just after November. That might have something to do with my participation in NaNoWriMo, but I also don’t think you can rush through Saramago’s work. You have to take it it at your own pace, piece by piece, and let it digest. If you can do that, then you will have a very enjoyable read on your hands.

Cornelia Funke – Reckless

Author: Cornelia Funke

Series: Restless [presumably]
Title: Reckless
Published: September 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Target age: Preteen
Why I picked it up: Written by one of my favourite authors
Rating: 4 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

The first time I heard of Reckless was when I saw it in the store. I purchased it immediately. Cornelia Funke is one of two authors (that other being Neil Gaiman) that I aspire to be half as good as. I became hooked on Inkheart and devoured the rest of the series, buying the next two books on the days they were released. Unlike The Atlantis Complex, Funke’s new book, about a man who has been disappearing into a magical world since he was a boy only now to have his younger brother follow him into this realm with catastrophic results, did not disappoint.

This is how books for children or preteens or whatever you call them should be written. The characters are all adults dealing with serious problems (well, ‘serious’, you know, serious in the fantasy world…bahh, I don’t know how to explain this). The story does not feel dumbed down or censored for children. If I had read this when I was 11, I would have been very very happy with this book. If only I had been more aware of books like this when I was growing up. It is still a book meant for preteens, let’s be clear about that. And it’s not a book adults will enjoy in the same way they enjoyed Harry Potter. Perhaps the best way to describe it is as a grown-up book for kids who aren’t grown-up. I’m not really sure…I’ve never come across a book like this before, in case you haven’t noticed, haha.

I love how adaptations of Grimm fairy tales are worked in seamlessly. The allusions to Sleeping Beauty? Perfect. I love the portrayal fairies; I love terrifying and powerful fairies, so I might be slightly biased there. I also love the portrayal of witches; I love magical beings that are hinted at but never quite seen, so the reader can imagine their own stories about them. I love the Tailor. Edward Scissorhands for young fantasy readers. The writing style did not disappoint. I look to Neil Gaiman for story inspiration and to Cornelia Funke for style inspiration. This book has earned its place next to Inkdeath.

The only complaint I have was one that was minor for me but may be more significant for someone who’s looking to get a completely satisfying story. The story starts off rather abruptly and so many things are hinted at, at times it felt like Reckless was the second book in a series. And maybe the characters weren’t exceptional. Most of them weren’t anything too special. But I wasn’t reading for an outstanding plot or insightful characters, I was reading for writing style and just a general good time and I definitely came away from the book satisfied in that department. =) Just remember that this is a children’s book and I think you’ll have a rather enjoyable reading experience.

Justin Richards – Doctor Who: Apollo 23

Author: Justin Richards

Series: Doctor Who
Title: Apollo 23
Published: April 2010
Publisher: BBC Books
Length: 248 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Target age: All ages (maybe+10)
Why I picked it up: Doctor Who fan, couldn’t resist checking  
Rating: 3 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

Normally I don’t purchase these kind of things: novelizations of movies, books based on television shows, etc. But I may have a tiny obsession with DW and there is such a long wait between July and the lone Christmas episode and then finally another season in April and I had a Chapters gift card and it was only $12 and I could just buy one to see what it’s like. The Doctor Who novels are not just book versions of the television series. DW is a big franchise, I suppose, comprised of three television series, audio dramas and novels that are all part of the official canon (I believe that’s how it works). So choosing to read one of these isn’t stretching the fandom tooo far…;P

There isn’t too much to say about this book. I enjoyed it, but that’s because I’m a fan and it was fun reading a story, hearing my favourite characters again. I especially liked this one because it was a ‘space base’ kind of story and I love those stories. Would you enjoy this if you aren’t already a DW fan? Probably not. But if you are, and you’re looking for more DW, I’d recommend giving this a shot.

Jose Saramago – The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

*The following information applies to the English hardcover edition. (the novel was originally published in Portuguese in 1991).*

Author: Jose Saramago
Translator: Giovanni Pontiero

Title: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
Published: 1994
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company
Length: 377 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Heard about the author’s death, had book recommended by a friend
Rating: 4 stars
Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

This book was much better than I expected it to be. I sought it out because the premise sounded interesting (fictionalized account of Jesus’ life as human), I did not expect the actual writing to be so impressive. Normally the type of authors who win Nobel Prizes aren’t my style, but I’ve already gone to the library and checked out two more books by Saramago.
Saramago’s style is fairly unique. He writes with very little punctuation. No quotations to indicate dialogue are found within this novel. Commas are greatly favoured in places of periods. An sample of dialogue between Mary and Joseph:
Mary looked at him in dismay, Are we leaving, she asked, Yes, this very minute, But you said, Be quiet and start packing while I harness the donkey. Aren’t we going to eat first. No, we’ll eat something on the way. But it will soon be dark and we might get lost, whereupon Joseph lost his temper.
The narration is also very different. The story is written as though told through the eyes of one narrator who takes on the view of different characters…it’s hard to describe exactly what it’s like so I marked this passage as an example.
These are cruel times indeed, when a pregnant woman comes knocking at our door and we deny her shelter in a corner of the yard and send her off to give birth in a cave, like the bears and wolves. Something pricked our conscience however, and, getting up from where we were sitting, we went to the door to see for ourselves this husband and wife who so desperately needed a roof over their heads. The sadness in that poor girl’s face was enough to arouse our maternal instinct, so we patiently explained why we could not possibly take them in, the house was already crowded with sons and daughters, grandchildren, in-laws. As you can see, there simply isn’t any room here, but our slave will take you to a cave we use as a stable.
This form of narration is not constant throughout the novel, but it does pop up from time to time.

My description of the writing style may make this novel sound like a tough read, but surprisingly I found it wasn’t at all difficult. The story flowed smoothly and felt very natural. I really enjoyed this style and I look forward to reading Saramago’s other novels.

The story itself was also beautifully crafted. The characters and relationships between them illustrated in the novel (especially those between Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Mary Magdalene) felt very real, emotional and believable. I felt something for each one of those characters.

This is a fairly hefty novel but not once did I find myself bored with it. Maybe that’s just me…but I found myself wanting to keep reading to experience more of the characters and the style.

My knowledge of the Bible is not as great as it probably should be, but I was able to pick up on two events that Saramago interpreted differently  than the Bible: the story of Lazarus and the story of Judas Iscariot. I found it impressive how easily Saramago was able to craft different interpretations of each of these characters and yet do so in such a believable way.

As you can tell, I was pretty impressed with this novel. Clearly I need to read more novels like this one…I’m very much looking forward to reading Blindness and Death With Interruptions, which are currently sitting in a book crate under my bed.

Side note: I listened to Peter Gabriel’s Passion, an album I downloaded roughly a year ago and listen to from time to time, while reading this book. It created a very fitting atmosphere 🙂

Paolo Bacigalupi – Ship Breaker

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Title: Ship Breaker
Published: May 2010
Publisher: Little, Brown
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Dystopian scifi
Target age: Young adult
Why I picked it up: Hank Green
Rating: 3.5 stars

Buy: Chapters | Barnes and Noble | Check your local bookstore!

I enjoyed Ship Breaker much more than Marcus of Umbria. It has been a very long time since I’ve blown through a fiction book so quickly. Young adult novels may be below my ‘reading level’ but I can still enjoy a good one (and when would I ever read the bad ones? ;P). YA novels are usually much better written than so-called ‘adult fiction’ – once I find a good YA novel, it leaves more of an imprint on me than anything else does. I can enjoy it immensely and learn from it for my own writing.

Now that I’ve said all that about YA, I need to backtrack a bit…Ship Breaker was a good book but not one of the ones that has made a lasting impact on me. It was an enjoyable read, brought up some good ideas, had a few tense moments, but the characters didn’t make an emotional impact on me. That’s okay. Not every novel has to be made of John Green moments.

One of the things I liked best about this book was that it presented certain ideas well that I feel are usually presented awkwardly (like this sentence :P). One of the issues the book tackles is the morals of protecting the environment over making money (the novel is set in ‘Orleans’ where everything has been destroyed by impossibly strong hurricanes) and it actually presents both sides well, as in: you can see why somebody might take the money over the environment, which I usually have a hard time understanding. Another issue the book handles nicely is that of the morals of killing. Usually I find that after a character’s ‘first kill’ they’re overcome with guilt to an extreme that’s a little unbelievable. That didn’t happen as much in this book; it felt more natural.

A few more thoughts…The book is an action/adventure and that is exactly what it feels like. It’s not tickly  – emotional at all. I didn’t form any attachments to the characters, but they felt fairly well-developed and unique. No hero stereotypes here.The ending was a little abrupt, I like a fuller ending but it does wrap up the story. All in all, Ship Breakers was a fun and thoughtful read. I’d probably recommend it if you’re looking for something fast paced and gritty but enjoyable.