This tour de force has got to be the most radically different kind of book since the creation of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (most likely a brother in spirit). This work, though, is more readable despite its encompassing stylistic forays into the no-no's of grammar and punctuation. What I'm saying is "Hold onto your hats, you've never read anything like it."
cain is the protagonist (and I purposely do not capitalize his name as no names are capitalized in the world of Jose Saramago, at least not in this story) and it is to be remembered that cain's extraordinary journey through the world of the Old Testament is pre-Biblical. He has no points of reference (no footnotes, no exegeses, no internet commentaries) but his own direct reactive experiences to the events he witnesses by some mysterious decree (even God is puzzled by its source).
And what events he witnesses (and even plays a main role in some of them)! After killing his brother, something which he never ceases to regret, God sentences him to wander the earth (a la the ocean's Flying Dutchman, but without any seven years' chance of redemption, however slim), and in his peregrinations he meets up with no less than Abraham, Joshua, Noah and witnesses the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, among other catastrophic events. Let's face it. He doesn't think much of God, and doesn't mind telling him so. God's opinion of cain is mutual. The unresolvedness of this shared state is at the heart of this story. And their differences of opinion perpetuate to this day.
Certainly the fact that Saramago was an atheist and a libertarian communist colored his weltanschauung. When the Portuguese government censored his book The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, he relocated from his native country to the Canary Islands. Neither did he win a popularity contest with the Catholic Church.
Stylistically, the innovations in this book include paragraphs some running for many pages, commas to divide sentences, rather than periods, a new speaker denoted only by an initial capital letter of a word, names, as I mentioned, are not capitalized, yet some words, such as Mother and Father, are capitalized. At first it seems a bit puzzling, but as one reads on it becomes a flow of sorts, an interior drifting that eventually becomes appealing. I believe that because of these innovations, an intensity is sustained because of the scarcity of breaks (halts) in the narrative.
So here we've got a book by a genius, no doubt. As an allegory, I miss the well-rounded human, and yet reading it is kind of like getting a sock in the teeth. "Take that!" says Saramago.
With pleasure, replies the reader. At least this one.