A master at creating moods, Jose Saramago leaves you with an eerie hangover in The Double

Title: The Double

Author: Jose Saramago

Publisher: Harcourt

Pages: 324

I typically take a book to bed, read a few pages and slip into torpor. But, The Double is no book for that.

It is an unputdownable page-turner, which will leave you with a churn in your stomach, and imagining someone outside the window after the light are turned off.

Jose Saramago, the first Portuguese language writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, effectively uses the stream of consciousness technique to explore his protagonist, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso. Through this novel written in 2004, the leftist author makes references to the tricky subject of cloning and the complexities it poses to individuals and society. The Nobel committee had, in 1998, praised him for his ‘modern scepticism’ of official truths, which is quite evident in this oeuvre.

Routine

Afonso is a secondary school history teacher who leads a boring and mundane life, suffering throes of existentialism and depression in an unnamed metropolis.

He says, “It’s just that everything tires me and bores me, the wretched routine, the repetitiveness, the sense of marking time….” As an antidote, a colleague suggests he rent a video. He watches the worthless movie and goes to bed only to wake up with a startle, feeling the presence of another man in his apartment, where he lives alone.

He watches the movie again to find to his and our astonishment, his ‘spitting self-image’ in a frame, playing a bit part. From then on, Afonso is single-minded in his mission to find his identical twin.

“I want to find him without anyone knowing and without him suspecting,” says Afonso to himself. Disturbed, the character confides in neither his girlfriend nor his mother, seemingly worried if he were the original or the duplicate.

Insecurity deepened

After hectically watching several movies he identifies the look-alike actor to be Antonio Claro, who lives on the other side of the same city. Suspense and dillydallying follow and the two decide to meet. They are identical from their voices to their moles, scars, fingerprints and even their date of birth, leaving you with a shudder. But only one can be the original. The two lookalikes turn venomous towards each other. The story ends suddenly, with too much violence packed into the last 30 pages.

Saramago, who has over 30 pieces of work ranging from poetry to fiction and essays to his credit, is a master at creating moods. In The Double he leaves you with an eerie hangover. Some of the passages are long winding and convoluted, making the book no easy read. In keeping with his style, dialogues go on for pages between characters with just a comma separating one character’s speech from the other.

While you wish you knew more of Afonso, Saramago wins you over with his gripping narrative and keeps you guessing till the very end.

Keywords: The Double

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