domingo, 20 de junio de 2010

José Saramago RIP

José Saramago has died. He seemed a pleasant enough old bloke, as communists go, but his novels are excruciatingly tedious. If you haven't read them, don't bother. He won a Nobel prize, which should tell you all you need to know. (Although this chap is not like the normal run of Nobel winner, and I was glad to discover him.)

To be honest, I only read two of them before giving up, and I shan't be giving him another chance. His 'Essay on Blindness' is an allegory of something or other that is mildly entertaining in parts, but is mostly dull and ultimately pointless, in that it doesn't seem to say anything. To sum up, the entire population goes blind, one by one. No one knows what to do. Desperate attempts to contain the epidemic lead to isolation, imprisonment, abandonment, violence; law and order break down, basic human instincts, most of them bad, take over. Then everyone starts getting their sight back. One woman never does go blind. I think she's supposed to represent Hope, or something.

A good writer could make an excellent story out of this, but Saramago was not a good writer and he didn't tell stories. The book is a hundred almost identical vignettes of a single image, itself crass and obvious, through which he tries to tell us what is wrong with the modern world (broadly speaking, these are in fact all the things which are good about it, but he was, as I said, a communist).

The Cave is just as tedious. The central image is of a massive shopping centre, so huge it has become central to the life of the whole area. Everyone wants to shop there, because they sell everything you could possibly want at reasonable prices. Everybody wants to work there, because the conditions are good, the contracts long-term and they even have apartments for their staff. All the manufacturers and dealers want to trade with them because they provide a guaranteed market far bigger and more stable than the artesan or small producer could hope to find for himself.

And yet we are clearly meant to think, again across a hundred almost identical scenes, that this is a bad thing and that we should all want to be like the central character, a country potter who can't make a living because he persists in trying to sell to a handful of neighbours things that they don't want. It is better (for you) to starve picturesquely than to make a living (in a way I disapprove of), seems to be the- all too familiar- messaage, and he says it again and again throughout 400 boring pages.

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