The Double – José Saramago

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José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

Translated from the Portugese by Margaret Jull Costa

Blindness is one of my favourite books and so I have been keeping an eye out for Saramago’s other books ever since I finished reading it. Unfortunately I haven’t been very successful – they never seem to turn up!  Then,  last week I finally spotted one in the library.

The Double is the story of a history teacher who sits down to watch a rented video one evening and is shocked to discover that one of the actors is identical to him in every physical detail. He tracks down his look-alike and confirms that they are exact copies of each other – so alike that even their wives cannot tell them apart.

As with Blindness, Saramago’s writing style takes a bit of time to get used to. There are very few paragraphs and the words just seem to flow together at times, each page just packed with a sea of words:

Although he does not really believe in Fate, distinguished from any lesser destiny by that respectful initial capital letter, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso cannot shake off the idea that so many chance events and coincidences coming all together could very well correspond to a plan, as yet unrevealed, but whose development and denouncement are doubtless already to be found on the tablets on which that same Destiny, always assuming it does exist and does govern our lives, set down, at the very beginning of time, the date on which the first hair would fall from our head and the last smile die on our lips.

It doesn’t take long to adapt to his style though, and I quickly became caught up in this imaginative plot. It doesn’t have the pace or fearful adrenaline rush I experienced with Blindness, but it is just as thought-provoking. If it were possible, would you want to swap lives with someone? Would you feel threatened by someone who was identical to you in every way? What would you do to protect your identity?

I loved the ending – it was cleverly written and left me with lots to think about.

The Double isn’t in the same league as Blindness, but it  is a very good book.



Is Blindness one of your favourite books?

Have you read any of Saramago’s other books?

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  1. Claire says:

    Blindness has been at the top of my TBR pile this year but I want time to savour it… I’m waiting until after the Booker. Glad to know it’s a favourite.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m sure you’ll love Blindness – as long as you aren’t easily disturbed. I look forward to finding out what you think of it.

  2. Beth F says:

    Blindness sounds maybe too freaky for me, but the concept of the Double is interesting. I haven’t read anything by this author.

    1. Jackie says:

      Blindness is quite disturbing, mainly because of how likely the events are to occur. The Double might be a good introduction to his books though – you get an ideal for his style without wanting to move to the country and avoid the general population!!

  3. Sandy says:

    C.B. James and I have been working on a special project for BBAW this year, which examines both Blindness the book and Blindness the movie. We are very excited about it, and are in the process of editing our spirited discussions. (We loved the book BTW.) I would pick up another novel by Saramago, most definitely. It didn’t take long to get into his style of prose…it almost gives you the sense of chaos and confusion.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m looking forward to your Blindness project! I haven’t watched the film as I don’t see how the book could possibly be transferred to the screen. I have heard terrible things about it too – I look forward to hearing what you think of it!

  4. JoAnn says:

    I haven’t read Saramago, but this book sounds intriguing. Like Beth F, Blindness may bee too freaky and intense for me!

    1. Jackie says:

      This isn’t intense and is really original. I think it might be a great place to start!

  5. I actually read this before Blindness…but it was a few years ago, and now I don’t remember the ending. Darn! I read Blindness recently and it was too freaky for me. I’m just not a fan of Saramago’s subject matter, but he is so original in topic and writing style. He’s a great writer, just not my cup of tea.

    1. Jackie says:

      So you must have like this one if you went on to read Blindness? His style is very different, but admit that the subject matter is often disturbing.

      1. You know, I don’t think it was this book that inspired me to read Blindness. I read them about 3-4 years apart. Blindness is my boyfriend’s favorite book and he harassed me for so long, I finally just had to give in and read it!

  6. Simon S says:

    I have tried Saramago twice and failed saly, Blindness I could try again thanks to your enthusiasm but I have to admit I am not sure as there are so many other books would like to read. Maybe one day just for you lol.

    1. Jackie says:

      Which two did you try – or was it Blindness twice?

      I admit that the writing style is very different and takes a bit of getting used to. Perhaps it is worth another try in a few years time – just for me LOL!!

      1. Simon S says:

        I tried Blindness and The Double. Maybe one day will give Blindness another go we will see.

        1. Jackie says:

          If you’ve tried these two then he’s probably not for you – the writing style is certainly not for everyone. Let me know if you do decide to try him again though.

  7. Steph says:

    I have only read one Saramago (All the Names), and really loved it so I have been picking up his books whenever I find them. I am holding off on Blindness because I know it will be awesome, but I also have this one on hand. I love how Saramago combines both amazing ideas with fantastic writing. Even if his style is a bit unusual, I actually had no problem getting right into the rhythm of his writing!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m keeping an eye out for all Saramago books, so hopefully I’ll come across ‘All the Names’ soon. If I don’t then I’ll have to splash out and buy new copies of a few of his books.

  8. Teresa says:

    I just discovered Saramago last year, and The Double was the first of his books that I read. I was absolutely blown away by it. I followed it up with Blindness which I liked even more.

    Like you, I found his style easy to get into, even if the multi-page sentences and unconventional punctuation had me worried at first. After a while, you just don’t notice it.

    1. Jackie says:

      I agree – the first few pages are a bit weird, but it doesn’t take long before you have forgotten about how different his writing style is. He is an amazing author!

  9. Diane says:

    BLINDNESS is a favorite — i almost never reread a book (i did Blindness–amazing). I have about 3 other Sarmago books on my shelf unread though. I do have The Double–great review.

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m pleased to hear that it stands up to a re-read. Blindness is amazing!

  10. CarolineC says:

    Saramago is an author I have been meaning to try. I’ve just tracked down a copy of Blindness and think it may be my OH’s cup of tea too, as he likes different. Double sounds good too, Jackie. Like you though I’ve heard the film of Blindness is awful.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think this book appeals to men as well as women. I hope you both enjoy it as much as I did!

  11. claire says:

    I’ve also been holding off on Blindness, like Steph, delaying gratification. I’ve only read The History of the Siege of Lisbon, and a novella, The Tale of the Unknown Island. The History of the Siege of Lisbon is amazing, for the plot, yes, but mainly for his writing style which I really really really love (up there with Bolaño and Garcia Marquez). :D

    1. Jackie says:

      It is beginning to sound as though all his books are outstanding – I wonder if they do a box set?!

  12. Violet says:

    Never read any of his books but I love the premise of this one. Its kind of scary. Once my sister said she saw me in her college and she was really angry that I did not even bother to meet her. I wasn’t anywhere close to her college. It kind of freaked me out and I felt sad too that there is someone who looks a lot like me. Everyone likes to be unique. I wonder how identical twins feel.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think all his books are designed to be a bit scary – taking normal events in the world and designing unique plots around them. Imagine having an identical twin you weren’t related to/didn’t even know that tried to swap positions with you – very scary prospect.

      Blindness has to be the scariest book ever. I hope you give him a try one day.

  13. Lenore says:

    I’ve been meaning to read this one too. I like the concept of doppelgangers.

    1. Jackie says:

      It is a great concept for a story. I hope you enjoy it.

  14. Cathy says:

    I’ve got Blindness on my TBR shelves, and your review makes me want to add The Double to it!

  15. Lauren R. says:

    I’m new to your blog, but I just had to leave a comment on this one. I’ve read History of the Siege of Lisbon, which, it seems, departs from his typical topics. It’s a wonderful weaving of discussions of history/words/why we know what we know with a lovely love story. Same writing style though. I’d definitely recommend it.

  16. Suey says:

    Blindness creeped me out way to much for me to consider it a favorite. Also, for the same reason, I’ve been nervous to try any of his other books.

  17. Jenners says:

    I’ve been a little nervous about trying one of his books but I feel that I should because so many people have loved them and the plots just sound amazing. I think I shall give “Blindness” a go very soon.

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