The central premise of José Saramago’s Death at intervals is simple, if impossible – one day, without warning, people stop dying…. And so ensures a fascinating exploration of some fundamental and enduring human concerns –our relationship with mortality, our reliance on governance, the morality of euthanasia, the roles of state and religion, and (not least) the nature of love and the meaning of life.
I loved this book in so many ways and the story itself is mischievous, thought provoking and challenging. Whilst Saramago’s rendering of the conventional sentence feels a little meandering and difficult at first it is well worth the effort and perseverance, particularly when it comes to the perfectly drawn plot twist – the anticipation of which runs to more than ten pages and feels like a sentence spilled into a paragraph spilled into a chapter. (Incidentally, if you want to get the full effect of this book I’d recommend reading it without first reading the publisher’s blurb on the back cover). For me, the stand out thing about Death at intervals is the ambiguity of the narrative voice – at times it is difficult to determine where speech ends and the narrative voice resumes. Unreliable narrators are something of a favourite of mine, because, as Saramago himself puts it ‘one cannot be too careful with words. Words change their minds just as people do’.
In summary I think this is a brilliant novel by a brilliant writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.