Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Death with Interruptions

A light-hearted tale set in a small European country where people stop dying on January 1st, with unwelcome consequences for hospitals, funeral homes, insurance companies, and religious institutions.

Worst off are those permanently stuck on the verge of death, neither recovering nor passing away. Soon family members find a very pragmatic solution. They cart their loved ones across the border, where death still has dominion, and bring them back for burial.

After seven months of these moral and economic difficulties, a letter arrives from death. People will resume dying after being notified one week in advance so they can put their affairs in order.

At this point we meet death herself, who is portrayed as a skeleton, and learn of a difficulty of her own. A letter she has sent out is inexplicably returned. It was intended for a cellist in a local orchestra, but somehow he remains alive.

Death clothes herself in flesh and pays him a visit.

Mortal Syntax

When death's initial letter is published in a newspaper, after its grammatical errors are cleaned up, including the "obsessive elimination of paragraphs" and "the intentional and almost diabolical abolition of the capital letter," death pens a heated response.

In fact, the same "syntactical blunders" in the letter are present throughout the entire novel.

What letter is that, Let's just say that I wrote it after attending the rehearsal for your concert, You were there, Yes, I was, But I didn't see you, Of course not, you couldn't, Anyway, it's not my concert, As modest as ever, And saying let's just say isn't the same as saying what actually happened, Sometimes it is, But not in this case, Congratu-lations, you're not only modest, your're very perceptive too, What letter do you mean, You'll find out in time, So why didn't you give it to me if you had the opportunity, Two opportunties, Exactly, so why didn't you give it to me, That's what I hope to find out...

Saramago won the Nobel in 1998. He died earlier this year.