Death on Holiday

Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

I have spent the past few days immersed in Death with Interrptions.  This novel was difficult to read at times, but in the end both profound and necessary.  I say necessary because it has the power to force the reader to think honestly about its oftentimes uncomfortable subject: death.

This book is written in a very unique fashion.  Sentences flow line after line, without conventional use of punctuation.  But despite this, the construction still makes perfect sense.  Also, one cannot ignore the voice of the author lingering in the background.  The book is wrought with his running commentary and in my opinion is better–and funnier–for it.

The novel begins with the premise that death has effectively taken holiday and ceased operations in an unnamed landlocked Portugal-resembling country.  Over the next hundred or so pages Saramago pragmatically discusses the ramifications of this.  At first, people are naturally joyous, believing themselves to be deeply enviable.  However, it doesn’t take long for the catholic church alongside the funeral, pension and insurance industries to realize the harrowingly negative effects.  As usual in states of chaos, the Mob, or the “maphia”in this country, finds a way to exploit the situation and draws a monopoly on the new suicide trafficking industry.  Seeing as this actually benefits the State, it complicitly turns a blind eye.

The second portion of the novel turns death into an actual humanlike character and follows her love affair with a cellist in the city’s symphony.  This section of the novel is compulsively readable.  In the end, death appears to make the decision to attempt a human life with the cellist, but privy to the first section of the novel, we know how this will result.

My interpretation of the novel is that it is a very nonreligious argument that music, or art, as created by humanity, trumps all otherworldly powers.  If a simple musician is able to persuade death away from her grand duties the according to Saramago, it is certainly more powerful than the otherside of the proverbial coin, God.  While I’m not sure I’m exactly in agreement with this world view, I found this book very good and am pleased with the thought process it forced me to take.

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