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Death at Intervals [Paperback]

Jose Saramago , Margaret Jull Costa
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Kindle Edition £3.99  
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Paperback, 7 Feb 2008 --  

Book Description

7 Feb 2008

On the first day of the New Year, no one dies.

This understandably causes great consternation amongst religious leaders - if there's no death, there can be no resurrection and therefore no reason for religion - and what will be the effect on pensions, the social services, hospitals? Funeral directors are reduced to arranging funerals for dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots. Life insurance policies become meaningless. Amid the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration: flags are hung out on balconies and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity - eternal life.

But will death's disappearance benefit the human race, or will this sudden abeyance backfire? How long can families cope with malingering elderly relatives who scratch at death's door while the portal remains firmly shut?

Then, seven months later, death returns, heralded by purple envelopes informing the recipients that their time is up. Death herself is now writing personal notes giving one week's notice. However, when an envelope is unexpectedly returned to her, death begins to experience strange, almost human emotions.

In his new novel José Saramago again turns the world on its head - an everyday event is snatched away, and humankind is left to make of it what it will.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (7 Feb 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846550203
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846550201
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 936,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

José Saramago was born in Portugal in 1922 and has been a full-time writer since 1979. His oeuvre embraces plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and novels, which have been translated into more than forty languages and have established him as the most influential Portuguese writer of his generation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

Product Description


'...a beautiful book, which narrows down with elegance and assurance from wide-screen satire to a deeply strange love story' -- Metro

'one of the great originals... solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic.' -- Gaurdian

'with characteristic dry wit he proceeds to debunk the rosy romance of eternal life"=' -- The Times

`a fitting cap to a body of work as playful as it is wise.' -- FT

'with characteristic dry wit he proceeds to debunk the rosy romance of eternal life'
-- The Times


`I wish more novelists writing exhibited this much intellectual ambition, and this much humanity and elegance in realising it'.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better and better 19 Mar 2008
This appears to be the third of a series of books in which Saramago's fictional city comes to terms with the effects of some implausible but brilliant affliction. In the first - blindness - we see the city struck down with an inability to see; The second - seeing - sees the city's inhabitants unanimously cast blank votes in th general election, and here, the city is now in the grip of death's abscence, literally unable to die.

Saramago's gift is the way in which he uses these events to explore the consequences in a society set up to deal only with the inevitable. In this latest, the abscence of death holds huge problems for the church's theologising, the government's ability to govern (for what of endless pension payments?!), the hospitals' intake and the funeral homes' sudden insolvency. The book is riddled with small snapshots of the effects on ordinary people, nicely juxaposed with the government's reaction on a larger scale.

Saramago commands his prose beautifully, and his ability to constantly both engage and involve the reader (we are reminded throughout that this is all taking place on the page) is credit to his ability; if you haven't read any Saramago yet, begin with The Double (still his best) and then if not this series, then this particular book. Wonderful.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea so what went wrong? 15 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book suffers due to its length. The premise is straight forward; what happens if death takes a break and people don't die. Then if death returns portrayed as an earnest, committed female skeleton, what happens when having been given more free will the people refuse to accept their fate. These are presented as profound philosophical questions laced with stick dry humor. Over the length of the book though their impact is weakened by an overly detailed explanation of plot without -dare I say this- any of the characters being really fleshed out. In summary I thought it was a great idea but too similar in style to his other books so becomes annoying rather than enlightening. A disappointing read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 16 May 2013
By Jane
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the tird book by this author that I have read. This is an easier read than 'Blindness' and 'Seeing' - a slightly different style. lAll were bought as used books. All were bought as used books - in very good condition true to description.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic 29 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Totally confused, probably failed to understand its meaning. realise that it is much, much more than the sum of its parts!
However really glad that I read it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wise but under-nourished 24 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Saramago's allegorical fable that takes cue from an intriguing what-if premise where Death suddenly goes on holiday in a contemporary nation-state, and runs a fair mile with it. Absent of any individual character at start to provide fuel or perspective, we have Saramago's sardonic, self-referential, omniscient (in short, familiar for all Saramago-ites!) narrator who, in his unabating stream-of-consciousness, takes the reader through the administrative, bureaucratic and political mayhem ensued by sudden accumulation of all the un-dead. A savage satire unfolds exposing the predictable hubris of all institutions responsible for "caring" a country's populace and the contradictory lip-service and visible gestures their heads engage in.

It's testament to Saramago's wisdom that the probable chaos imagined by him: emergence of mafia, frustration of religious institutions, inter-country interactions, exasperation of insurance companies, hospitals and care-homes: all read as completely credible. They are all rooted in everyday political machinations observed in handling of man-made and natural catastrophes one almost never tires of reading in diffuse form in the headlines and coalesced form in the editorials.

Then there is a hilarious corporealisation of Death: A spectacular bureaucratic re-imagination in a self-conscious, scythe-sporting female Grimm Reaper outfit who sends violet-coloured letters of death-notes, regrets that moths with human-skeleton backs could have been better symbolic messengers, fights with a newspaper editor over capitalisation of her name (Saramago, via her mouth, pontificates on a whole parallel official universe of sector-deaths!) and tumbles heel-first in affection for a dog-loving cellist: it's a remarkable romp alright.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An unusual and surreal read 30 Nov 2013
Death at Intervals is an unusual and surreal read. To me it got off to a rather slow start, however it was worthwhile sticking at it.
It's set in a fictional city where people suddenly stop dying, but continue to grow old and thus the country slowly goes bankrupt - an allegory of the modern world, perhaps? Naturally the Mafia are soon making money from this.
Without warning the storyline suddenly shifts. Death begins harvesting again but, on a whimsy, pens her intended victims a personal note informing them in advance of her intention to call. Her intentions, she reminds them, are unchallengeable. Without warning, a letter comes back undelivered. Impossible. She posts it again. Again, it comes back.
For the second time, the story shifts into something quite different; but I can't say any more without giving the tale away. The reviews seem to be split. Linear and credible it isn't, but then it isn't meant to be.

Jane Hetherington's Adventures in Detection Omnibus (Books 1-3): Omnibus Edition (Books 1-3)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a good book by saramago.
Death at Intervals is another story with an interesting premise from Portuguese writer and nobel prize winner, jose saramago. the premise: people stop dying. is Death on vacation? Read more
Published 15 months ago by luis ricardo
3.0 out of 5 stars "death" with a small d and a book both lose their way
I was sucked into this by the interesting premise of what would happen if, in just one country, everyone stops dying. Read more
Published on 29 Mar 2012 by P. J. Dunn
2.0 out of 5 stars (d)eathly boring
My first Jose Saramago, and probably my last.

I picked up this book because it had the most brilliant storyline, I thought it was going to be an excellent read for sure. Read more
Published on 30 Jun 2011 by S. Shamma
4.0 out of 5 stars The day when people stopped dying
I love the premise of this book. One day, in a particular country, people stop dying. They still get old, get sick, get mangled in car accidents, etc., but they can't die. Read more
Published on 3 Jun 2011 by Andrew Blackman
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious and trite
For all that this book is marketed as a "magical realist take on a fresh subject by a Nobel laureate", it just isn't very good at all. Read more
Published on 17 Dec 2010 by J.
3.0 out of 5 stars An executive summary of a novel, but not a novel.
So, I found myself on a Portuguese island recently. I strolled into a bookshop, and had a look at the English language section. Read more
Published on 18 July 2010 by Federhirn
1.0 out of 5 stars Nice idea but how dull do you have to be.
This is a great book written badly.

The idea is superb but it's ponderous and wordy presentation meant I gave up. And I like slow books. Read more
Published on 20 Jun 2010 by M. Sunderland
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable although not one of Saramago's best
The basic premise of this book that death takes a year's holiday in a certain land-locked country - this leads to initial rejoicing but then the problems emerge. Read more
Published on 26 Mar 2010 by Aquinas
3.0 out of 5 stars good, but not great
I think the idea for this novel was very good- what happens if death decided not to kill anymore? I don't think This brilliant idea was realised to its full potential, I found the... Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2010 by Clarinda
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