No protagonist in Franz Kafka's novels grows either.
No protagonist in Franz Kafka's novels grows either.
I have not yet read anything by Saramago, so I risked reading Altai's spoiler posting #138. I'm afraid it has made me even less likely to read anything by Saramago, despite the calls of "but he's not so bad really" from others.
You probably wouldn't have liked the style or the content, or the humour, Eric, so it's a wise decision.
But no matter, I shall read all your comments, then judge whether I fancy reading any Saramago at all. I get the feeling he's yet another hyped author because someone has made a film of his novel, and he won the Nobel in 1998. And, of course, because he was a Communist, which makes some people think he must be a kind of demigod.
Is he, as Altai and Liam seem to hint at, just another fantasy horror author? Or is there more profundity in his work? Does he blind people by tarting up horror as a "profound insight into human psychology"?
The translator herself is bound to talk up the book, because she translated it. Did she choose it herself, or was she given the assignment to translate because there is a film in the offing, and the publishers want to make a killing on the book as well, once the film is out? That's the way that things work, nowadays. As soon as they make a film of a book, the publisher goes into overdrive to make a profit too.
Here's a comment from that interview with the translator, whose URL was posted here several postings back (#133):
Egalitarian punctuation and narration, eh? And a bit of atheism for good measure. What the translator seems to be suggesting is that most people will find him unreadable on their first encounter with his work, but if you persevere with his egalitarian punctuation and narration, you will see the light. I'm sure that the removal of capital letters helps society to reach equality...One cannot help but see this egalitarian approach to both punctuation and narration as an expression of Saramago’s declared anarcho-communism and atheism, as cocking a snook at orthodoxy and authority, be it God or Government, and as a way of privileging the spoken voice, the ordinary human voice. Saramago’s dense pages of prose may look daunting, but once you step in, you are immediately swept along on that seamless flow of thought and utterance, all the while chivvied and cheered on by a genial and garrulous narrator, eager to involve you in the narrative process, and occasionally confessing to certain narratorial misdemeanours – like jumping ahead of the plot – or apologising for not being able to spend more time with certain secondary characters, about whom he could tell us more, if only he had the time . . .
My mom, who left school after the 6th grade and is a mere receptionist, has never had trouble understanding and enjoying Saramago, and laughing at his humor. Remarkably, during my college years I met a couple of teachers who found him 'difficult'.
Your mum may actually be intelligent and perceptive. Education guides these qualities, but they have to be there in the first place.
But I don't fancy reading ʒuˈzɛ sɐɾɐˈmaɣu myself (i.e. Zhoozeh Seremaghu). But I can see why some people turn him into a kind of secular saint: anarcho-communist, anti-establishment, pessimist, egalitarian punctuation, proletarian background, Nobel Prize, atheist, emigré, lost novel, i.e. all the things that appeal to the average university student of literature, when at an age that they react against everything. If he was so anti-establishment, why did he accept the Nobel from the hands of the Swedish king? He should have refused it on principle.
The problem, Eric, is that you think you know Saramago from a couple of soundbytes you heard - egalitarian punctuation, atheism, anti-establishment, that have nothing to do with his writing. Egalitarian punctuation is just something silly someone wrote about his style, but it doesn't make any sense; Saramago just writes long sentences, like many writers before him, and it shouldn't be taken seriously. Likewise, his atheism is barely absent from his work except for two or three novels, and as for his anti-establishment, on the contrary, he was very much involved in the establishment, performing his civis duties of commenting and criticising what he believed was wrong in society and in the world. He was very much against apathy and was often involved in many social causes. If thinking that Bush and Berlusconi are criminals is being anti-establishment, I guess there's really no hope for you, Eric.
As a new member of the team, I just wanna write what I think about the punctuation of Saramago. I read most of his books. At first I felt puzzled because of reading a text with only a few punctuation. However after reading his other books, I discovered that he is extraordinarily creative, then I began putting the punctuation on my own to focus on the subject itself. Now I feel very comfortable, and he became one of my idols.
For what it's worth, here's an unprofessional review of S's last book, Cain.
A review of his short-story collection, The Lives of Things.
I've read all Saramago fiction works (I mean his mature fiction - I never plucked up the courage to read juvenalia like Land of Sin) in the original Portuguese and I would say he has some very good ones, some decent ones and some just barely acceptable ones. For me his best novels are Ricardo Reis - for style and use of language - and Blindness - the idea, the narrative structure, the ability to describe in a convincing way. His worst are his last novels - the Death thing, the Elephant thing and the Cain thing, when he was obviously no longer in shape to write proper books.
I've enjoyed many things in all his books: his use of language (I don't know how this comes out in translation because I always read him in the original, but I've been told that he has been competently translated into English), his dialogues, his ability to make you feel you're there...
On the other hand, all his books have things that I've found irritating (but then I'm an easily irritated reader) and passages that would have required a strict scissor-wielding editor.
Last edited by Flint; 24-Jul-2012 at 11:21.
Terra do Pecado wasn't that bad, indeed it was better than Cain in my estimation. But I just don't understand why so many people dislike Death at Intervals: it's so funny, it has so many incisive observations about the impact of immortality on human society, and towards the end becomes such a moving love story. For me it's his last great novel.
O homem duplicado was just such an amazing book, from the first sentence to the last. The end was so shocking!
Agree with you Heteronym, it is a severe critic for human existence but without the sordid and violent dystopic ways of Ensayo sobre la Ceguera. In this book Saramago's weapon are the extreme irony, sharp comments and very well balanced sense of humor.
I just finished "The Double", I'd never read anything by Saramago before. He does have a unique style and I love how he adds humor in the book, but I almost felt like I read two different novels: there is a big difference in tone and pace between the first part (until we meet the double) and the second part (after we've met him). Strangely enough, although the first part consisted mostly of the professor's thoughts while the second part was more action-filled, I liked it more when it was just the professor and us. Still a good novel overall, but the sudden change in its tone threw me off a bit. I liked the twist in the end too.
I second Flint's opinion that Ricardo Reis is the best of Saramago. More exactly, it is the best of Saramago in his superficially superficial style where he writes in a deceivingly light way about deep things. There is also the resonant style where he writes in a very formal, poetic language that disguises the void of reality. The best I've read on this style is Baltasar and Blimunda (aka Memorial do Convento).
Reading a summary of the plots of novels is mostly useless as a tool to gauge whether we'd like a writer or not. Ditto for reader's reported opinions like: 'Stephen King is The Man!', '50 Shapes of Grapes will rock your world!', 'Naruto is the greatest thing since Dante, take my word for it!' To get someone to see the Moon, if that person has never seen the Moon, the best course of action is to point to the Moon, not to describe it; same for literary works, it's better to show than to tell. In that spirit, let me quote 3 samples from Memorial do Convento and Ricardo Reis to get a taste of what Saramago does best.
From Baltasar and Blimunda:
"The slab was enormous and rectangular in shape, a massive block of unpolished marble set on two trunks of pine, drawing closer we would undoubtedly hear the sap groaning, just as we hear, at this very moment, the groan of fear escaping from the men's lips, as the colossal dimensions of the stone came into full view. The officer from the Inspectorate General comes up and places his hand on it, as if he were taking possession of the stone in His Majesty's name, but if all these men and oxen are unable to provide the necessary strength, all the King's power will be as wind, dust, nothingness. However, they will do their best. This is why they have come, this is why they have abandoned their fields and labours (...) the inspector may rest assured that no one here will let him down."
From Ricardo Reis:
"Among those books he found one from the library of the Highland Brigade, a book he had forgotten to return. If the Irish librarian notices the book is missing, grave and grievous accusations will be made against the Lusitanian nation, a land of slaves and brigands, as Byron once quipped, and O'Brien will concur. Insignificant local transgressions often give rise to resounding and universal consequences. But I am innocent, I swear it was merely forgetfulness on my part and nothing more. He placed the book on his bedside table, intending to finish it one of these days, 'The God of the Labyrinth' by Herbert Quain, also Irish, by no unusual coincidence."
Notice how 'An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain' by Borges is being playfully referenced.
As read from a newspaper:
"a sixteen-year-old girl has died of smallpox, a pastoral flower of bucolic innocence, a lily cruelly severed from its stem and so prematurely. I have a foxhound bitch, not a purebred, who has already had two litters and on both occasions she was found eating her young, not one escaped, tell me, dear editor, what should I do. In reply to your question, dear reader, the cannibalism of bitches is generally due to malnutrition during the period of gestation. The dog must be well fed with meat as her staple diet. (...). If this does not change her habits, there's no remedy, either destroy the dog or do not allow her to mate (...). Now let us try to imagine what would happen if women suffering from malnutrition during pregnancy, starved of meat, bread and green vegetables, which is fairly common, were also to begin eating their infants. After trying to imagine it and having confirmed that such crimes do not occur, it becomes easy to see the difference between people and animals. (...) Now, what name would be suitable for the bitch. (...), the right name, one which comes from Ugolino della Gherardesca, that most savage, lusty nobleman who ate his children and grandchildren, there are testimonies to this (...) in the Divine Comedy, chapter thirty-three of the Inferno. Therefore let the bitch who eats her young be called Ugolina, (...) Ugolina do not kill me, I am your son."
Fancy discussing Saramago, one of my very favourite writers of all time, in an English speaking forum!
So, Heteronym, Terra do pecado wasn't that bad after all. Well, thank you, I might go and read it then.
Herenerves, I'm afraid you and I are not going to agree about O Homem Duplicado - that big omniscient narrator makes a shift of focus too big for my taste, at the end of the book.
Anyway, Herenerves and Perry, I agree it's a good novel and I had a good time reading it.
Daniel, about Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira, you will agree it's a great (and frightening) book. Such an outlandish tale, but sooo credible!
Cleanthess, I subscribe what you say about Saramago's style (styles). By the way, good English translations.
(Saramago's Spanish translations -funny considering how close Spanish and Portuguese are, or precisely because of that- have not always been so fortunate, I think).
I wish the translations were mine, they are by the great, late Giovanni Pontiero who brought Saramago and Lispector into English.
Cleanthess, have you got anything specific to say about Saramago? You use rather a lot of other people's ideas, but what to you yourself think about specific Saramago books? That would be more interesting to know. Nev er mind the plot summaries, read the books.