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The Double [Hardcover]

Jose Saramago
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 15 2004
The inspiration for the major motion picture "Enemy" starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Denis Villeneuve   Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a divorced, depressed history teacher. To lift his spirits, a colleague suggests he rent a certain video. Tertuliano watches the film, unimpressed. But during the night, when he is awakened by noises in his apartment, he goes into the living room to find that the VCR is replaying the video. He watches in astonishment as a man who looks exactly like him-or, more specifically, exactly like he did five years before, mustachioed and fuller in the face-appears on the screen. He sleeps badly.

Against his better judgment, Tertuliano decides to pursue his double. As he roots out the man's identity, what begins as a whimsical story becomes a "wonderfully twisted meditation on identity and individuality" (The Boston Globe). Saramago displays his remarkable talent in this haunting tale of appearance versus reality.


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From Publishers Weekly

The double motif, which has fascinated authors as diverse as Poe, Dostoyevski and Nabokov, is revived in this surprisingly listless novel by Portuguese master Saramago. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a history teacher in an unnamed metropolis (presumably Lisbon). Middle-aged, divorced and in a relationship with a woman, Maria da Paz, he is bored with life. On the suggestion of a colleague, one night Máximo watches a video that changes everything. The video itself is a forgettable comedy, but the actor who plays the minor role of hotel clerk (so minor he isn't listed in the credits) is Afonso's physical double. Soon Afonso is feverishly renting videos, trying to find the actor's name, while hiding his project from his suspicious colleague, his lover and his mother. Finally tracking the man down, he suggests a meeting. The actor, a rather sleazy fellow, resents Afonso's presence, as if his identical appearance were a sort of ontological theft. Soon the two are in a competition that involves sex and power. Narrating in his usual long, rambling sentences, Saramago suspends his characters and their actions in fussy authorial asides. Afonso has several hokey "dialogues" with "common sense"; his situation, which might be the germ for an excellent short story, is stretched out far beyond the length it deserves. This semi-allegory is certainly not one of Saramago's more noteworthy offerings.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The 1998 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature continues to garner a reputation and readership far beyond his native Portugal. His latest novel is a provocative meditation on identity: specifically, the story of how ordinary history teacher Tertuliano Maxim Afonso awakens one morning to find a video that he's rented but not yet watched playing on his VCR. And one of the characters--the actor playing the role, that is--is the spitting image of Tertuliano, as he appeared about five years ago. Tertuliano is divorced, lonely, depressed--in other words, susceptible to filling in his time and mind with an obsession, which this situation quickly becomes. He decides to track down the actor who is his double, with disturbing, even dire, consequences. Saramago's typical stream-of-consciousness technique, although not easy for complacent readers, is beautifully lyrical here ("the first, subtle wash of early-morning lightness") and, at the same time, burrows deeply within the protagonist's thought process--entirely suitable and even necessary for such a cerebral yet shockingly personal exploration of what truly makes an individual unique and the concept that somewhere in the world it's possible that one's exact physical double exists. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tragedy of Male Ego-Centricity Sept. 25 2007
Format:Paperback
Saramago cherishes a dull, lonely and underrated character that develops major fixation over a seemingly minor odd incident. While the character's stubbornness and eccentricity cannot be shared easily, his genuine sincerity and solitary search, described with humour, are quite touching.

In The Double the main character Tertuliano, an unremarkable history teacher, comes across his double as he watches a rental video. It is not the plot itself but the way contradicting emotions are interwoven with rather uncontrollable actions that makes this story intriguing. Tertuliano's mind swings back and forth between weakness and determination, insecurity and arrogance, apathy and passion.

My main problem with The Double is its pronounced male ego-centricity. Both Tertuliano and Antonio (his double) starts acting in a deceptive and destructive way because of their silly chauvinism. Although portrayed with respect and quiet strength, female characters (mother, wife and girlfriend) remain passive and helpless as the tragedy unfolds.

The Double is not the strongest work by Saramago but still good and enjoyable. As always, Saramago writes with tenderness and compassion, and poses moral questions without making judgment. In particular, I loved the poignant and mysterious ending which would lead to another chapter left to my own imagination.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good challenge June 15 2014
By Myriam
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the second Saramago book I've read and it was worth it. It's a hard read, as usual and the narration is definitelty unusual but it's a strange and thrilling book. I hardly ever say this but the movie Enemy based on this book is as good -if not better- than the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great plot with a real twist at the end. May 4 2014
By Doug D.
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
.Easy to read with good character development. Santiago tends to ramble at times but more often than not it is his way of looking humorously at some of the more mundane things of life that we ordinarily would not stop to ponder.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magical Tale by a Master Writer Oct. 26 2004
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
From the day I discovered BLINDNESS, I have been a great fan of Jose Saramago's work: THE STONE RAFT, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST, and THE CAVE to mention a few. I picked up THE DOUBLE with eager anticipation and was not disappointed. The pacing is slow and deliberate, the sentences long and convoluted in typically Saramagian style, but this is a book that I simply did not want to put down. Every time I planned to use a chapter ending as a break point in my reading, my eyes continued on almost involuntarily to the next page, my mind not yet ready to let go of the story.

THE DOUBLE's story line is simple, the cast of characters relatively limited. Tertuliana Maximo Afonso is the most ordinary of ordinary history teachers, a divorced, middle-aged man living a stagnant existence: friendless, cautious to the point of near paralysis, afraid of commitment to an inexplicably-attached girlfriend, and overly attached to his own mother. Then one evening, following the recommendation of a fellow teacher, he watches a rented video and sees a minor actor who is a virtual duplicate of himself as he looked five years earlier, when the movie was made.

With this cinematic revelation of a double, Tertuliano Maximo's world is turned upside down. He begins a comically academic process of investigation, even co-opting his girlfriend Maria da Paz into participating while refusing to reveal the reason. The more he learns about his double, the more shocked he is by their clone-like sameness, down to the matching scars on their knees. Once he learns the other man's true name and address, Maximo cannot resist making contact. Upon discovering their identicalness extends even to birth dates and fingerprints, they are joined in a battle for primogeniture, for the right to exist and occupy the one single place Nature intended for just one human entity, at the unavoidable expense of the other. The consequences are both amusing and tragic, concluding with a surprise twist.

It is tempting to consider THE DOUBLE as Saramago's riff on cloning, but such an interpretation seems overly literal and a bit too facile. Instead, the book can be seen as a modern tale of personal identity: who we think we are, who we portray ourselves to be, and who we really are (or if we can ever even discover that).

Once, double lives were the exclusive province of movie stars and politicians, those who necessarily adopted public personas often far different from their private lives. Today, we have ordinary people taking on new identities courtesy of reality television programs. Thanks to the Internet, we can try on and cast off personalities as easily as changing shirts: projecting chosen identities in chat rooms and via instant messaging, living them out as avatars in simulated life games like The Sims, or portraying ourselves as we wish to be seen on personal web pages. In an Internet world, we can be several people simultaneously. Those who "see" us may have no idea who we really are. After a while, we may not even be sure ourselves which identity is the real "us."

In THE DOUBLE, Saramago pries open the lid on modern identity to examine the consequences of a world in which we can be so easily heard without being seen, where we can represent ourselves to be virtually anything we choose to be. It is no accident that Tertuliano Maximo's doppelganger has a successful career as a supporting actor in movies, appearing in one as a waiter, in another as a hotel receptionist, in still others as a croupier, a dance teacher, a theater impresario. Nor is it a matter of chance that Tertuliano Maximo is a teacher of ancient history, a reader about Mesopotamia, burdened by a laughably outmoded first name and an equally out-of-date automobile, so technophobic he is clueless about how to use a computer. Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is no longer a serviceable identity - it's time to discard it for a newer and better one.

For those unfamiliar with Jose Saramago's work, do not be put off in the first twenty pages by his writing style. His prose is full of involutions and convolutions, turning in on itself playfully and wandering about self-reflexively, revealing wry commentaries and sardonic humor along the way. Saramago's writing is meant to be savored like a fine wine, swirled about the mind and appreciated the way we appreciate the brushstrokes of a master oil painter. The result is magical, more than worth the effort. This is a masterful work from a master writer and deserving Nobelist.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rule-breaking and thought-provoking novel Oct. 22 2004
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Since THE DOUBLE was my first Jose Saramago book, it was eagerly anticipated. I had heard high praise about THE CAVE. The author's name had been mentioned in some surprising circles. So I'm not sure what I expected here. What I got was a book like no other --- in some ways incredible, in other ways bewildering.

Just the lead character's name, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, strikes a discordant note from the beginning. And Saramago rarely uses less than all three names, and almost never uses the pronoun. He emphasizes the name's rarity first, among many instances, when Tertuliano Maximo Afonso has to identify himself for the clerk at a video rental store. He rents a video from this previously mentioned clerk at the suggestion of a teacher of mathematics at the school where he, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, teaches history. The video is unremarkable but for one aspect: A supporting actor with barely a speaking part is identical in appearance to Tertuliano Maximo Afonso. Identical.

Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, recently depressed and lethargic --- too depressed and lethargic to extricate himself from a lackluster relationship with long-time paramour Maria da Paz --- discovers a renewed purpose to his days. He embarks on a mission to locate this actor with his face. He muses whether identical looks (right down to years-old scars and mole placements) means identical times of death. He muses about other things, too. In fact, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso muses, it seems, all day long.

Engulfed in his quest for at least a glimpse of his double, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso neglects not only Maria da Paz, who is recently asking some hard questions, but his mother as well, who is also asking some hard questions, just not the same ones. Tertuliano Maximo Afonso's obsession leads him to neglect most areas of his life that do not involve the actor. He may, it turns out, have taken his mission too far.

This is a book to pay attention to. While at first Saramago's style may be off-putting to some (a spectacularly run-on sentence may go on for a full page; paragraphs may go on for three, no quotation marks are used, very few speaker tags, and you will never see a dash or an interrogatory), it brazenly dares the reader to look beyond proper grammatical conventions and simply read the message. It defies all the rules. Saramago has a rhythm to his writing that, once you have it, propels you into the story with enthusiastic speed. THE DOUBLE provides excellent fodder for provoking thought. It is perplexing, comical, even absurd. A guaranteed head shaker.

--- Reviewed by Kate Ayers
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digressions are the sunshine. Jan. 8 2005
By Cipriano - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine - they are the life, the soul of reading." - Laurence Sterne.

Believing the above statement to be true would really help a reader enjoy Saramago and I happen to be one of the believers. I cannot think of an author who uses the device of digression moreso than Saramago. For me, the near-constant philosophizing of the narrator and the characters is one of the things that I love the most about his work. This is the fifth Saramago book I have read and it has helped me arrive at the conclusion that he is my favorite living author.

There is no point in my re-stating the plot or storyline because the amazon page itself (above) really provides a perfect synopsis. So do the fine reviews that follow mine here on this page. But here is the one thing that I would ask the prospective reader to ponder...

What would it be like to suddenly find that there is another person in the world that is exactly like you, in every respect? Another YOU! A double. A doppelganger.

In its psychological twistings and turnings and in a writing style that is as wonderful and coherent as it is inimitable and unorthodox, this is the very question that Saramago brings the reader FACE to FACE with!

My initial answer to the question was "Hmmm, no big deal. So what? I have a double. Who cares?" With The Double, Saramago has now blown the lid off of such an easy answer. Sure, the book is not ABOUT me or you, but in Tertuliano Maximo we see shades of who we all are. And the thoughtful (and patient) reader will find that they are drawn into a vortex of identity trauma along with the protagonist himself.

Who AM I, if there is another me?

Be patient with the book, especially if you are new to Jose Saramago... give it time, you will be rewarded. Stick with the convolutions and dialogues with "common sense"... the absolutely crazy ending is worth it all.

Saramago. What can one say? He is the literature teacher's worst nightmare! He does not even use "proper" punctuation. Most conventional rules of writing are thrown to the wind. Like one reviewer noted, J.S. even tells you ahead of time what is going to happen to his characters later on in the story. It is crazy.

Is The Double a good book to start with if you are new to Saramago? Not really, in my opinion. The Cave, or Blindness, would be a better pier to jump off of.

But jump. Do it.

Swim with a partner, if need be.

T.y.L.i.I.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Am I really a mistake, he wondered." Nov. 17 2004
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In what may be Jose Saramago's most playful novel, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a secondary school history teacher, views a film and is stunned to discover an actor who looks exactly like him in every respect. "One of us is a mistake," he declares, and as he begins (typically) to overanalyze the fact that "never before in the history of humanity have two identical people existed in the same place and time," he finds himself wondering what it would be like to discover and meet this double.

Renting dozens of videos in an effort to identify the look-alike actor he saw in the film, Tertuliano finds his life transformed--"as if he were...in a corridor joining heaven and hell," and he wonders "where he had come from and where he would go to next." Enlisting his girlfriend, Maria da Paz, to help him find the address of actor Daniel Santa Clara, without telling her the whole story about his double, he learns that the actor's real name is Antonio Claro, contacts him by telephone, and arranges to meet him at a remote place, where a series of profound, dramatic ironies unfolds.

Telling Tertuliano's story is a bold and quirky narrator. Self-conscious about his writing, the narrator digresses, acts patronizing toward Tertuliano, and often makes arch comments about him to the reader. He manipulates the reader, jokes with him as he constructs Tertuliano's story, plays with logic and language, creates conversations and debates between Tertuliano and Common Sense, reflects on the origins and destinies of words, and generally shows off, acting as a foil for Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, whose own "emotions have never been strong or enduring."

Saramago raises serious questions about identity and destiny, presenting Tertuliano Maximo Afonso and Antonio Claro (Daniel Santa Clara) as they compare their lives, recognize their different approaches to life, and then find their natural curiosity becoming transformed into resentment. "There is one too many of us in the world," Tertuliano declares. The climax is shocking--quite different from what the reader expects--and just when you think the surprises have ended, a final surprise awaits.

Readers new to Saramago should be forewarned that his style can be off-putting--page after page of run-on sentences, few paragraphs indentations, and a lack of quotation marks. The reader must read dialogue carefully, since there is no punctuation to set off which remarks are made by which character. Despite this flouting of convention, however, Saramago achieves a remarkably conversational tone, and this often humorous novel reads quickly. Lively and clever, The Double gives us the game of life, played with a whole new set of rules. Mary Whipple
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Which One Of Us Is Me? Nov. 23 2004
By Louis N. Gruber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Tertuliano Maximo Afonso is a middle-aged, middle school history teacher--an unremarkable, passive and self-absorbed man who is suffering from mild depression, or is it boredom? A colleague suggests he rent a certain movie. A bit player in the movie turns out to look exactly as he does. The history teacher becomes obsessed with this man, ruminates about the nature of identity, and sets out to find this man who looks like him.

Eventually the two men meet, but instead of feeling a kinship or a sense of being brothers they react to each other with suspicion, mistrust and resentment. Their identical appearance is taken to mean that only one of them can be the real person--the other is merely a copy. But which one? The question is explored in long-winded excess by Tertuliano, a man who is pathetically self-absorbed and thinks too much.Meanwhile he neglects and misuses everyone around him.

Thus begins a love-hate (shall we say) relationship that ends in disaster. I will say no more about the plot--you will just have to read the book.

Author Jose Saramago is not for everyone, and this book in particular is not for everyone. As a nobel laureate I suppose he is permitted to break all the rules of novel-writing, and he certainly does. He does not "show" what the characters are thinking and feeling, he "tells" us--in excruciating detail. He constantly intrudes into the action with authorial commentary, laughing at the characters, telling us what is going to happen to them, analyzing their actions, and philosophizing. Some of his thoughts are brilliantly put, but getting at them is hard work. I found this novel unbearably tedious and hard to read until I was half-way through it. In the last half, things began to pick up, and in the last hundred pages, it was hard to put it down.The surprise ending was stunning.

Conclusions: If you're a fan of Saramago you will like it. If you don't mind long Proustian sentences, rambling digressions, page after page without paragraphing, and lengthy dialogues without a single quotation mark--well--this may be just the book for you. I recommend it but not for everyone. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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