Author: Jose Saramago
Publisher: Harcourt (2008 in English; 2005 in Portuguese)
death (that’s right, death with a small d), has decided to stop killing people in this unnamed country. The minister doesn’t know what to do. The country is in an uproar with all these people hanging in limbo between death and life. The maphia (yes with a ph and not an f) take matters into their own hands. But that’s not what this story is about. death eventually starts killing people again in which she sends violet colored envelopes to folks telling them they have a week left to live, to give them enough time to get their things in order for their demise. When an envelope is returned to her not once, twice but three times, she visits the cellist who has managed to evade her death letter and things change for her.
Written in witty and whimsical fashion, similar to a fairy tale, the author provides us with an in depth look as to what the world would look like if we stopped dying. At times, what one is reading is absolutely ridiculous but also not entirely impossible.
Not being familiar with Saramago’s style of no names, no punctuations, no capitalization, or paragraphs even, I was intrigued. I was reminded of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders which did use all of the above but not in the most conventional fashion that the common reader is used to. Saramago’s style worked for a quarter of the book but wore this reader thin because the story meandered for far too long. We didn’t even become closely acquainted with death until the last third of the novel, which felt like a breath of fresh air.
Where Moll Flanders was difficult to follow because capitalizations were random and sporadic, Saramago was at times hard to follow because dialogue was included in long unbroken pages of prose with commas breaking up the lines spoken and no names other than occupational names and sometimes not even that.
As for the story, I was more interested in death’s deal but by then, the tale was on its last leg. I was pushing myself to complete this book because it was a selection for book club. This is not a story I would ever pick up again on my volition.
Here’s the funny thing though – my summary of this book is very much in the style of the book I read. Coincidence? Very much so. Still not going to read any more of this author’s work if I have to though. Interesting read, to say the least.