The dream of immortality has always fascinated humanity. The dream of eternal life has founded religions that changed the shape of the world. What if it were true?
So begins José Saramago's Death with Interruptions. In an unnamed small European country without any explanations people have stopped dying - an eternal dream come true, right?"The following day, no one died."
Well, once the celebrations died down, it quickly becomes obvious that this paradise on earth comes at a price. Immortality is not eternal youth, and ultimately what we have is hundreds and thousands of people suspended on the edge of dying, in the in-between state, neither dead nor alive, caught on the borderline.
"Having lived, until those days of confusion, in what they had imagined to be the best of all possible and probable worlds, they were discovering, with delight, that the best, the absolute best, was happening right now, right there, at the door of their house, a unique and marvelous life without the daily fear of parca’s creaking scissors, immortality in the land that gave us our being, safe from any metaphysical awkwardnesses and free to everyone, with no sealed orders to open at the hour of our death, announcing at that crossroads where dear companions in this vale of tears known as earth were forced to part and set off for their different destinations in the next world, you to paradise, you to purgatory, you down to hell."
And slowly it sinks in that before long it's not only the undertakers and gravediggers who are out of jobs; not only religion that becomes obsolete as its greatest reward - resurrection - is no longer a big deal (seriously, Saramago's distaste for religion is very prominently underscored and explained in this book); not only the philosophical schools left pointless and speechless; it's generations and generations in"this society torn between the hope of living forever and the fear of never dying" who will have to dedicate themselves to caring for the millions of not-quite-dead; it's the country unprepared to care for the citizens who are no longer free to enjoy the certainty of death."...One must admit that the prospects are not just gloomy, they're terrible, catastrophic, more dangerous by far than anything even the wildest imagination could dream up."
"If we don’t start dying again, we have no future."
It's where Saramago's prose, his entire narration undergoes a fascinating transformation. No, his style does not change. We still have solid blocks of text and meandering ramblings and endless strangely punctuated sentences, but the slow shift in the mood and the feeling subtly creeps up making you look up from the book and wonder - am I still reading the same story? And why do I have those pesky tears glistening in the corners of my eyes? And why can't I stop myself from sighing and quietly saying, "Aww...." at the end?"Due to some strange optical phenomenon, real or virtual, death seems much smaller now, as if her bones had shrunk, or perhaps she was always like that, and it's our eyes, wide with fear, that make her look like a giant. Poor death. It makes us feel like going over and putting a hand on her hard shoulder and whispering a few words of sympathy in her ear, or, rather, in the place where her ear once was, underneath the parietal."
"For the first time in her life, death knew what it felt like to have a dog on her lap."