The Double by Jose Saramago


About The Double by Jose Saramago: Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is a history teacher in a secondary school. He is divorced, involved in a rather one-sided relationship with a bank clerk, and he is depressed. To lift his depression, a colleague suggests he rent a certain video. Tertuliano watches the film and is unimpressed. During the night, noises in his apartment wake him. He goes into the living room to find that the VCR is replaying the video, and as he watches in astonishment, he sees a man who looks exactly like him - or, more specifically, exactly like the man he was five years before, moustachioed and fuller in the face. He sleeps badly. Against his own better judgement, Tertuliano decides to pursue his double. As he establishes the man's identity, what begins as a whimsical story becomes a dark meditation on identity and, perhaps, on the crass assumptions behind cloning - that we are merely our outward appearance rather than the sum of our experiences.


My two cents


First line: The man who had just come into the shop to rent a video bears on his identity card a most unusual name, a name with a classical flavor that time has staled, neither more nor less than Tertuliano Maximo Afonso.

The book in one sentence: A high school history teacher discovers the existence of his exact double in all respects, tries to make sense of it, and becomes obsessed with killing him.

I'd recommend it to: Anyone who's read Saramago before. If you're interested in psychological and books that make you ponder into the night, this may be for you.

I liked: 

Again, Saramago makes a story of a seemingly mundane existence - a teacher, an introvert, depressed, with few friends, no real life to speak of - into something interesting.

The premise of the story - of the possibility of having an exact double in this world - immediately reminded me of matter and anti-matter. I was speculating that when Tertuliano Maximo Afonso would eventually meet his double that something stupendous would happen ... spontaneous combustion? (*sarcasm*) Of course, nothing like that did happen.

This is a psychological novel. It examines how a person's core of existence - identity and individuality - is shattered when the improbable and impossible happens. There is a lot of thinking going on, a lot of second guessing, and a lot of stress. And that can get to you, if you really think about it.

I didn’t like 

Saramago's strange storytelling with little or no punctuation and long-winded sentences doesn't really bother me, but it can grate on the nerves somewhat, especially since there were pages and pages of soliloquy and non-action.

And why the emphasis on the name Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, and its insistent repetition throughout the text? I think Saramago was trying to stress that despite the uniqueness of his name, our hero had to contend with the contrary. But again, its repeated use throughout the text was getting tiring.

There were times that the book was slooooowwww. I admit, I skimmed through some sections. This is not a book to read when you are bored. It can be a little clinical at times, like reading through a doctor's notes.

Author factoids: Saramago is a Portuguese writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.

Verdict: Once you get past the strange non-punctuation, the heart of the story makes for a compelling and disturbing read. I really need to read Blindness and The Cave soon!

Random quote:
The best way to achieve universal exoneration is to conclude that since everyone is to blame, no one is guilty.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall