The Double [Jose Saramago]

Although he does no really believe in Fate, distinguished from any lesser destiny by that respectful initial capital letter,

Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is a quiet, unassuming, slightly depressed history teacher who one night, while watching a film recommended to him,  sees someone who is identical to him in every way.
Confronted with this inexplicable loss of his own individuality, Maximo Afonso breaks out of his unremarkable life, and embarks on a quest to find out more about his duplicate.

To get a clear idea of his situation, suffice it to say he was married, but can no longer remember what led him to matrimony, that he is divorced and cannot now bring himself to ponder the reasons for the separation.

The quest becomes an obsession, and when he finally meets the other him, it becomes important to each of them to discover who is the original and who is the double.
Each faced with a loss of identity and individuality, they initially attempt to move on, but like an animal competing with it’s own reflection in a mirror, they are unable to tolerate the existence of the other, and so the tale winds along to it’s powerful conclusion.  Wives, mothers, girl friends and careers take a back seat as two people square up to each other in a bid to prove that they are themselves alone.
One thing that intrigued me while reading was how it was going to end, all the conclusions I came up with were at the most only partly correct, and books like Seeing show Saramago is not one to always go for a conventional ending.

Tertuliano Maximo Afonso fell onto the sofa, not the armchair, which was not large enough to contain the physical and moral collapse of his body

The Double is written in Saramago’s own unique style, the narrator at once inside Maximo’s head while at the same time not knowing what motivates him to do certain things.  It digresses and explains, while Maximo himself has numerous conversations with his own common sense, as he contemplates what it means to be the same in every way as someone else.

Now that Saramago has passed away, I’ve only got a few of his books left to read, well for the first time anyway.   His style of writing is tough to start with, but I find it immensely rewarding once you are immersed in his page long paragraphs and the cadence of his narrator.  As with most if not all his other novels I’ve read, The Double is wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

This was how he knew that the world would not end today, for it would be an unforgivable waste to make the sun rise in vain.


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