two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-DoublePortugal’s Nobel laureate is best known in this country for his masterwork Blindness, in which all of humanity, save for one, loses its sight. With The Double, Saramago spins his yarn around Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, a depressed, divorced history teacher in an unnamed metropolis. Afonso watches a video and discovers his doppleganger, an actor named Antonio Claro. Alarmed and curious, Afonso tracks down his lookalike and finds that they were born within minutes of each other and sport identical birthmarks. At first, the men are intrigued; Claro’s wife even toys with the sexual possibilities. Then things turn ugly. Throughout, Saramago posits questions of identity with relentless dark humor.
Harcourt. 324 pages. $25. ISBN: 0151010404

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The alchemy is deliberate as he [Saramago] invokes the dark comedy of an Almodovar film, the plot twists of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the creative labyrinths of Borges. … He may have written deeper and more profound satires, but The Double succeeds in probing that human core we think we know until a master artist forces us to reconsider." Scott W. Helman

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"Shakespeare’s comedies are full of twins and imposters, and Saramago uses some of the same plot twists in a modern context. … There is a cheerful, whimsical quality to this book, and a bombastic, teacherly aspect to Saramago’s prose, that it seems the Nobel-winning novelist was dancing with his own double, an ebullient gremlin who wanted to write a moral potboiler." Alane Salierno Mason

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The plot is full of surprising, clever twists … and though the premise and series of events described are out of the ordinary (if not totally surreal), the story is convincing. That’s because the author is in total control of his narrative, as convoluted as it may be." Jean Charbonneau

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"If Saramago believes what he has his omniscient narrator declare—that ‘every ordinary person is unique, truly unique’—he might have devoted some writerly energy to making his characters more lifelike. Even doubles will be different in their hearts." John Banville

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Throughout The Double there is an obvious archness, an authorial sneer at the fantastical subject matter that quickly distances the reader from any emotional involvement with either the character or his situation. As a result, we don’t care what happens to Afonso or how he ends up." Jonathan Carroll

Critical Summary

The Double received decidedly mixed reviews. Certain critics applaud the urgency with which Saramago questions the nature of identity in our current age and the "what if" scenario. Others believe that Shakespeare, Dumas, and Nabokov have more effectively employed the twin construct. No one denies that Saramago is a brilliant, engaging writer who has earned his eminent standing. However, most reviewers conclude that neither Afonso nor his double, Claro, are fully developed characters with vital inner lives. They are little more than devices through which Saramago funnels his existentialism. Although Costa receives across-the-board kudos for her faithful and elegant translation, many readers will ditch Saramago’s labyrinthine prose halfway through.

Also by the Author

Baltasar and Blimunda | By José Saramago (1982): Saramago’s international breakthrough came with this romance of sorts set during the Inquisition in 18th-century Portugal. Baltasar, a soldier, and Blimunda, a clairvoyant, help a priest build a flying machine.

The Cave | José Saramago (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2003. In his 10th novel to be translated into English, Saramago spins a parable about the totalitarian nature of global capitalism—and our limited ability to perceive its true reality.