The Double Hardcover – Oct 4 2004
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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
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.
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
As far as plot goes, it was an interesting premise. The concept of the doppelganger is common in folklore, and Saramago does an excellent job exploring why we fear doubles so much, how it forces us to question our identity, and how people cope with losing their identity. However, such as the case with any work of literature it seems, the build up is slow. Saramago digs deep into the mind and mediocrity of the life of a plebeian for the first 80% of the story. The pace doesn't pick up until the last 20% of the story, in which everything happens at once. This dispersal makes a novel that is so short extremely dense.
We were informed we had to read this story in three days. Normally, about 350 pages is no problem for me, especially with the size of the type in my copy, but reading this story in three days was a chore. I could honestly read any of the LotR books with all of Tolkien's flowery language, anything by Brandon Sanderson, or a variety of other authors in less time than it took me to read this book, if that gives you any idea of how dense it is.
TL;DR: If short, dense books examining the complexity of the human psyche under stress with convoluted sentence structure are your thing, then this is the book for you. If not, run. Run the other direction. As fast as humanly possible. Faster than humanly possible. There are many other books you would take greater pleasure in reading than this one.