Thomas McGonigle reviews José Saramago's The Notebook
What makes this exceptional is that Saramago was a formally demanding writer in love with unparagraphed prose. Yet he had the ability to hold us in his grasp nonetheless. His narrators were obsessives who convincingly took us away from everyday reality, inhabiting instead a familiar but very strange world.Click to read the full article
In "Blindness," an epidemic of sorts strikes an unnamed city, where the vision of the characters fades to a kind of milky white. "Seeing" — its successor, set in the same city and published in 2006 — involves a voters' revolt in which during an election, the vast majority of citizens cast ballots that are blank.
This is allegorical writing, but it gets at the most basic issues of control and resistance, power and personal autonomy. When Saramago rooted his writing in actual detail, he had a revelatory power that was nearly unrivaled, but his main inclination was toward the parable, the slipperiest of all literary tendencies.
Saramago's final book, "The Notebook" — published just two months before his death — does not represent him at his best. Instead, it is an opportunistic selection from the author's blog.
Grab-bag is a handy expression for such a collection, and while the author on display in these pages can be attractive and sympathetic, there is a distracting undercurrent that insidiously undermines his authority.
It all depends where you look. Some of the writing here reflects the wondrous integrity of his previous books