The Lives of Things – Jose Saramago

He never dreamed like other men. Nor did he ever dream as a horse might dream. During their hours of wakefulness, there were few moments of peace or simple conciliation. But the horse’s dream, along with that of the man, constituted the centaur’s dream.

I’m coming to the end, hoping that there is an mountain of unpublished or untranslated material yet to be unearthed. Saramago is sadly no more and so I always put his works to the bottom of my pile of books to read, the reward at the end, putting off the moment when I will have nothing fresh to read.
The Lives of Things is a collection of six short stories, that while not strictly in the style of Saramago in his later years (There are a good number of full stops to start with), still contain that unmistakable view of the world and the inquisitive expansive imagination, that is quintessentially his.

It is perhaps testament to Saramago’s sardonic eye that in the first of the collection, an observation into how such a simple act can reverberate across an entire nation is in fact a detailed description of someone falling off a chair, including a focused biology lesson on exactly what caused the expiration of the chairs occupant. For all the meaning of the first story I have to honestly say it didn’t captivate me as he so often does.

Embargo for me veers into the realm of blindness, that seems right, but after writing it I’m at a loss to explain why. During a petrol embargo a man’s car takes on a life of it’s own, dragging him from petrol station to petrol station. Reflux is a biting look at what can happen when someone with power puts a whim into action, and the folly that results, which for me recalled Death at Intervals.

Things was a uneasy read, that in some respects most closely resembled normal life, yet in retrospect was something between horror and science fiction. I had to re-read the ending three times before I though I understood it, then that made me think about it even more.

For me, the highlight of the collection was the Centaur. I love the Greek myths and for Saramago to evoke so poignantly the journey of the last of the horsemen was a particularly enjoyable treat at the end of the collection. Excepting The Revenge, an incredibly short yet somehow dark few pages that end the collection as if an example of the shadowy things that happen as night falls.

So all I have left is The Cave, I am going to read it, just for my fix. I’m toying vaguely, and very vaguely with the idea of buying one of his novels in Portuguese and translating it, just to keep him alive, we shall see, if not then I shall re-read my collection of his novels, so in my head Saramago will live still.

The boy went back inside. He fllled a mug and drank, allowing the water to trickle down the corners of his mouth, then down his neck on to the hairs on his chest which seemed darker. As he drank, he stared outside at those two red stains on the straw. Then he stepped wearily out of the house, crossed the olive-grove once more beneath the scorching sun.


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