Wednesday, July 06, 2005

souls and clowns

The human soul is a box out of which a clown is always ready to spring, making faces and sticking out his tongue, but there are times when that same clown merely peers at us over the edge of the box, and if he sees that, by chance, we are behaving in a just and honest fashion, he merely nods approvingly and disappears, thinking that we are not entirely a lost cause.
- from The Double, by Jose Saramago

Lately I've been raving to everyone I know about the Portuguese author Jose Saramago, and after finishing his most recent novel, The Double, I feel compelled to rave about him to everyone I don't know as well.

Saramago's style seems to be to build a philosophical discussion around the plot he creates, bringing in all sorts of brilliant ideas and observations. These might emerge from the narrator's voice, as in the passage above, full of irony and layered meanings. Or a minor character might come up with some shining observation, momentarily dumbfounding the main characters as well as the reader.

The Double is about two men living in the same city, with different careers and relationships, who are exact duplicates of one another. Being an identical twin, I was intrigued by the premise, but the ideas that develop out of it would be fascinating to anyone. What are the differences that make us individuals, how do we distinguish ourselves from one another, how do we communicate with others and with ourselves - and how do we keep that perverted clown of the soul at bay?

Saramago might be classified as a novelist of ideas, but what left me entranced were his questions, the way his characters search for meaning and clarity amid the puzzling and ridiculous circumstances of living. I began this novel thinking it was a great primer for anyone curious about being a twin - after finishing it, I think it is a great primer for anyone curious about being human. Consider yourself raved to.

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