No Ulysses update today. Bookman was home with me all weekend, something that, given his variable schedule, doesn’t happen very often so I took the weekend off from Joyce to spend being lazy and enjoying my husband’s company. So today, for Halloween and the last day of the RIP Challenge, I have Jose Saramago’s Death with Interruptions.
It is a slim novel written in Saramago’s trademark style of long paragraphs, long sentences and very little punctuation. However, in spite of entire conversations taking place in one sentence, it was easy to read. But that could also be because I am used to the way her writes. I imagine if I had never read him before it would be a bit trickier until I caught on.
On New Year’s Day in an unnamed country people stop dying. Those who at midnight were close to death, suddenly are in a state of suspended life to the dismay of family. At first everyone was happy that death was no more, well everyone except the religious leaders who held an emergency meeting and worried that now they could not offer life after death in heaven, people would stop attending church.
Soon, the people who make money from the dead, mortuaries and coffin makers, florists, etc, all begin complaining that their livelihoods are threatened and get the government to declare that all pets have to now be buried with their services (the only ones who have stopped dying are people). The life insurance industry also find themselves in a quandary. And end of life facilities that take care of the elderly and near dead are soon filled to capacity and scrambling to find more room. People might not be dying but they are still getting old.
Death has only ceased in this one particular country, everyone else goes on as usual. A new industry springs up, sneaking the dying across the border to they can really die and secretly burying them there.
People grow increasingly unhappy until after months have gone by, a letter in a violet envelope mysteriously appears in the locked office of the director of television. The letter turns out to be from death and she says that she got tired of hearing everyone complain about death so she stopped killing people. Since this has made people even unhappier, she, death, will resume her duties but people will be warned of their impending demise by letter a week in advance to give them time to put their affairs in order and say goodbye to loved ones.
As you can imagine this does not go well. People do not like to know ahead of time the day they are going to die. But death keeps sending out her letters until one day one is returned to sender. Death is perplexed and she must investigate. I will say no more except that both death and the man for whom the letter is intended both get more than they bargained for.
It’s a great story, a parable, or is it an allegory? No matter. It is a highly imaginative approach to examining death and our dependence on it as well as our fear of it and the various ways people cope with the knowledge of their mortality or lack thereof, whichever the case may be. There is humor in the book and satire and sadness, and of course, plenty of room for philosophizing such as when an apprentice philosopher has a conversation with the spirit hovering over the water of the aquarium in which the philosopher’s goldfish lives (spirit likes to hover over water in case you are wondering):
This is what the spirit hovering over the water of the aquarium asked the apprentice philosopher, Have you ever wondered if death is the same for all living beings, be they animals, human beings included, or plants, from the grass you walk on to the hundred-meter-tall sequoiadendron giganteum, will the death that kills a man who knows he’s going to die be the same as that of a horse who never will. And, it went on, at what point did the silkworm die after having shut itself up in a cocoon and bolted the door, how was it possible for the life of one to have been born out of the death of the other, the life of the moth out of the death of the worm, and for them to be the same but different, or did the silkworm not die because the moth still lives.
That’s only a small part of their conversation.
A marvelous book, I highly recommend it. And while it might not be a typical ghost story for this time of year, it is still a very appropriate RIP read perfect for those of us who are afraid of the things that go bump in the night.