“Death at Intervals” by Jose Saramago

I enjoyed reading this, though it seemed a little short, and a little distant. Since I read an English translation from the Portugese, I perhaps simply lack the cultural context to full appreciate this; I know that as I read Haruki Murakami novels, I can almost taste the kanji. If I had the time, I would love to read every book I encounter in its’ original language.

But, enough of my wistfulness, and on to the text! Death at Intervals is well written, though a bit inconsistent at times; the novel beings with long descriptions of the social problems that arise when death takes a holiday, then zeroes in closer on the protagonist as almost an afterthought. I don’t want to spoil much of the experience of the book for anyone, but the tone changes so significantly towards the end that it seems strange for a novel. Many of the descriptions and scenes seem as if they would be far more suited to a film or animation than a traditional novel.

I found it somewhat difficult to accustom myself to the punctuation of this book. In the Harvill Secker/Random House edition I picked up (and I am assuming this is preserved from the original text), no quotation marks are used. Speech is only marked with commas and capitalised sentences. New paragraphs are rare, and on the page I have open, two characters are having a short discussion that is hard to follow, being on one line of the page.

However, once I was finally acclimatised to the style, I found that the characters are each so distinct that there is hardly ever any confusion. It establishes an interesting feel to the novel, that echoes the oddness of the main character’s experiences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, though I would not reccomend it to many people. Some will find the punctuation style offputting, others will find the subject matter too morbid. I merely found it amusing and sweet. I imagine that I will gain a lot more from this on a second read-through, and I love books that grow from revisitations. However, I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this one until I’ve given some of Saramago’s other novels a try.

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