Saturday, 26 September 2009
ALL THE NAMES
Saramago reminds us time and again why he won the Literary Nobel Prize after his most read work, BLINDNESS. His works are living proof of what great writing does to people and why he is considered the most influential of living writers.
Titled ALL THE NAMES, the book strikingly and ironically holds only one name – that of the protagonist, Jose, doubly macabre as the name is the author’s own. I have yet to read a work in which the central character is named after the author, except in memoirs.
Senhor Jose is a lowly clerk by day and an explorer of famous lives by night, a take off on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day he chances on upon an index card of an ordinary woman whose details hold as much fascination for him as any other celebrity’s. Rising like a phoenix from his own humdrum existence dictated by regimentation, Jose begins to track the woman down obsessively following a thread of clues in a bid to rescue her from ‘an oblivion deeper than the grave’.
As in all the works of Saramago, what stands out is not his vast repertoire of unhesitatingly alien words or his by now, infamous punctuation, but the eternity in the subject and the way Saramago goes about narrating the same with tongue in cheek humor. ALL THE NAMES is remarkable, both unsettling and delightful, perhaps the hallmark of true literature.
Every page in the book, though undeniably grotesque, has an multiple insights into life. Each paragraph stuns you while the hazardous string of words opens up the vistas of human nature, each path traveled upon by all great writers many times over, but nothing as momentous as Saramago’s, since they are laced with black humor.
You do not need a passport or visa to be transported to the realms of unadulterated human imagination. I chew on these words, the parameters of my intelligence and the translucence of fiction filling up like a hydrogen balloon.
Apart from Saramago’s THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST, no other work of his stray so much into the realm of fantasy as this one. But when we realize the state of the mind of the character in question, all fantasy dissolves and becomes part and parcel of reality. His apocalyptical words on loneliness can be preserved for future generations, it is that enlightening.
Here are some jottings on the novel from all parts of the world.
‘The roots of Saramago’s tales run deep, tapping into a European tradition of exemplary fictions, in which the human soul resists the encroaching forces of dehumanizing bureaucracies. ALL THE NAMES is a fine successor to BLINDNESS, a work worthy of a literary Nobel Laureate.
LISA JARDINE, The Times
‘A fantastic tale of a cowed clerk defying the power of his monolithic employer. It’s the breezy wit which Saramago challenges a world where Love and Death must be catalogued and explained away by the dull – minded that makes his book so compelling’.
CHRIS DOLAN, Glasgow Herald
‘A lovely adventure, a search for an unknown woman, floats on sentences that topple over one another like waves’.