The Double by Jose Saramago

“The man who has 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 Maximo and the Afonso, which are in more common usage, he can just about tolerate, depending, of course, on the mood he’s in, but the Tertuliano weighs on him like a gravestone and has done, ever since he first realized that the wretched name lent itself to being spoken in an ironic, potentially offensive tone. He is a history teacher at a secondary school, and a colleague had suggested the video to him with the warning, It’s not exactly a masterpiece of cinema, but it might keep you amused for an hour and a half. Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is greatly in need of stimuli to distract him, he lives alone and gets bored, or, to speak with the clinical exactitude that the present day requires, he has succumbed to the temporary weakness of spirit known as depression.”

A very interesting premise, written in the overly-analytical and run-on way that Saramago is so fond of: as described above, a history teacher with a funny name watches a video, and to his shock discovers that one of the extras in the film looks exactly like him. He becomes obsessed with this apparent identical twin, and eventually tracks the man down and contacts him. From then on, both men are obsessed with the idea of why they are identical (down to their moles and scars), and which one is the copy of the other. Disaster follows, and even though I was able to guess the disaster, it was still interesting.

But I’m only giving it three stars, firstly because I’m frankly getting a little tired of Jose Saramgo’s rambling writing style. Would it really ruin the story that much if he put in some goddamn quotation marks around the dialogue every now and then? It’s a stylistic choice, I get it. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that Saramago doesn’t like women – if the representation of female characters in this book and Blindness (the other book of his that I’ve read), he certainly doesn’t find them interesting enough to exert much influence on a story. Also the ending of this particular book is vaguely misogynist and deeply unpleasant in regards to the female characters, and I did not care for it at all.

Honestly, I think this story would have actually worked best as a 30-minute episode of The Twilight Zone.

“We all know that each day that dawns is the first for some, and will be the last for others, and that for most people it will be just another day. For the history teacher Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, this day in which we find ourselves, in which we continue to exist, since there is no reason to believe it will be our last, will not be just another day. One might say that it appeared in the world with the possibility of being another first day, another beginning, and indicating, therefore, another destiny. Everything depends on what steps Tertuliano Maximo Afonso takes today. However, the procession, as people used to say in times gone by, is just about to leave the church. Let’s follow it.”

Verdict: three out of five stars

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