Death where is thy victory, knowing, however, that he will receive no reply, because death never replies, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she doesn’t know what to say in the face of the greatest of human sorrows.
Author: José Saramago
I’ll admit that the idea of reading an author like Saramago intimidated me. I knew well in advance about his odd writing style, with scarce punctuation and long run-on sentences, which made me presume a dull and tedious reading experience. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In Death At Intervals, this style simply works: it will absorb you and make you get lost in the story. Isn’t that what we all look for when reading a book?
I was surprised to discover a story full of imagination, humor, and sensitivity. Saramago offers his particular vision of a society that has finally managed to fulfill humanity’s most coveted desire: escaping from death. Why do we die? Does an endless life mean eternal happiness?
The first part of the book covers the consequences of death’s absence in a relatively small country. Despite society’s immense delight, this prospect soon becomes a calamity for funeral homes, insurance companies, hospitals, homes for the elderly, the Church, etc. The gift of immortality does not equal eternal youth, either. Life goes on without interruptions, leaving thousands of people in that in-between state that cannot be classified as either life or death. As the prime minister says: “If we don’t start dying again, we have no future.”
During the second half of the book, death resumes her activity as usual. She decides to introduce some changes in her workflow after analyzing the outcome of her experiment. From this point on, the narrative shifts dramatically to give way to death (lowercase ‘d’) as the main character, whom we get to know in a strangely human façade that is experiencing failure for the first time. Unaware of the consequences, she tries to solve the mystery of an apparently ordinary cellist who constantly eludes her fatal effect.
Both parts balance each other flawlessly to convey an insightful message: life and death cannot make sense on their own. We cannot define life without death and vice versa. Reading this book is a unique experience that will inevitably make you think about our understanding of death and its implications in our society.