Review of José Saramago's The Double
You don't get to be a Nobel laureate simply by strewing obstacles in the path of your readers. Saramago has a distinctive imagination, characterised not by leaps or flights but by a sublime grinding, as anyone who has read his implacable fable, Blindness, can confirm. From a single premise, he can generate prodigies of grounded fantasy.
The premise of The Double is simple, and announced in the title: a history teacher, idly watching the video of a romantic comedy, glimpses a supporting actor who proves to be identical to him in every way. The two men's voices coincide; even such things as moles and scars are identically distributed. Saramago has no interest in providing an explanation for this freakish occurrence, only in exploring its repercussions.
There's nothing particularly new in positing a logical world and then introducing an absurd element which leads to an unravelling of identity. After all, Saramago, born in 1922, is of an age to have seen existentialism and absurdism come and go. It's true that he takes the story in some unexpected directions, so that his history teacher becomes more decisive, more committed to his life in the shadow of the doppelganger. Whether this means that he becomes more 'himself' is debatable - it's just that he forfeits the luxury of wavering. Even so, The Double seems more of an idea for a novella than a novel.
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