Tuesday, June 29, 2010

José Saramago: The Notebook

Tom Payne reviews José Saramago's The Notebook.
Not everybody likes winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Becket thought it a catastrophe; Doris Lessing made it clear that she could have done without it; when the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska won it, Seamus Heaney said: “Poor Wislawa!” These days it seems almost unwriterly to win the most honourable prize a writer can win. Harold Pinter seemed all too chuffed. But why not? It tends to be a lifetime achievement award.
The Portuguese novelist José Saramago, who died last week, received it in 1998 for the work of two prolific decades. Not even the Nobel Prize was going to stop him. Like Pinter, he welcomed it. He tended not to show off without self-deprecation, but in his last published work, The Notebook, he let slip, thrice, that he was pleased to have won the prize.
Good for him. Saramago was a politically committed writer, and was able to use his global fame to plead cases dear to him. Or, as he put it in The Notebook: “It is true that I am better known as a writer, but there are also some people who… believe what I say as a common citizen is of interest to them.” And for a year, until last August, he wrote a blog.
Intellectuals in their ninth decade are allowed to write blogs, although, given that Saramago often wrote page-length paragraphs, he was never likely to do Twitter.
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