As Intermitencias da Morte [Death at intervals]
This is the second book by Mr. Saramago I read and the second I loved. It’s all in the style – I’ll be listing him among my all time favorites from now on. Despite the cursive text, the seeming lack of dialogue, punctuation or caps it’s extremely gripping. One of those books you just can’t put down. His phrasing has a certain rhythm, more than just reading it, you feel it within you. I’m probably rambling by this time, but that’s just to show how great he is. Besides, I think I’ve said similar stuff when I read Blindness.
I’ve also noticed a bunch of similarities between those two books (maybe there’s the same thing going with all his books, but I wouldn’t know…yet 😉 ), not just in style, which is Mr. Saramago’s trademark, but in choice of subject. He picks a completely extraordinary event, and treats its consequences to the most ordinary and mundane details. In this case, a very “Death takes a holiday/Meet Joe Black” event: death really takes a holiday. For 7 months nobody in the unnamed country dies. People grow older and older, sicker and sicker – yet no one dies. Those consequences I was talking about earlier are, many of them, bureaucratic in essence: a looming bankruptcy for the funeral industry, a short period of chaos in the insurance business (but insurance companies always fall on their feet 😉 ), the overpopulation of hospitals and nursing homes…all the logical things that you wouldn’t expect to follow such a out-of-the-ordinary event. But that’s the charm of it, is it not? Besides, Mr. Saramago has a particular brand of humor when describing such chaos – he looks upon all these predicaments with a sort of half-detached irony that completes a picture of the absurd.
As the euphoria of being seemingly immortal quickly washes off, one of the many old, tired and sick finds a way to “trick” death: this unusual suspension of activity happends only within the borders of one country – to die, you just have to cross the border. This practice becomes increasingly popular, spawning a “maphia” (the ph is a distinctive sign) that will rapidly gain power and start even more bureaucratic negotiations with the Government.
Then, just as things were starting to work, death returns – with a bang, or, in this case, a violet letter published in all papers nationwide. Death writes and, while graphologists and all sort of CSI-type specialists start analyzing, reconstructing and finally searching for her (it’s definitely a she), she follows a new set of rules: from now on, everyone will get a violet letter a week before their actual death, so that they can put their business in order. Why screw with a system that’s been working just fine for thousands of years – death has no particular reason, except perhaps for a new routine. After all, it gets to be a dull job eventually. At this point death takes centerstage and, for about half the book, gradually becomes humanised. And, how fitting, the first step towards this transformation is through frustration and disappointment…
Another thing that struck me (or the animal lover in me) is that Mr. Saramago must really love dogs. In Blindness there’s the “dog of tears”, here is the cellist’s dog. An unnamed creature, but a very loving and kind one. I’d go so far as to say that these truly are memorable companions 😀
You can view it as a simple work of fiction, as a satire of today’s society, as a fable, as an alarm bell driving us to controversial questions about religion or euthanasia, but either way, I would deem this to be a must-read. Maybe this book, and surely this author. And if I were to grade it (which I usually don’t do, but I’m in a grading mood right now), I’d give it a 9.5/10 (points, stars, pens or a furry animal of choice), my only issue being that it does get a bit too Meet Joe Black-ish by the end…