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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An executive summary of a novel, but not a novel., 18 July 2010
This review is from: Death at Intervals (Paperback)
So, I found myself on a Portuguese island recently. I strolled into a bookshop, and had a look at the English language section. A small handful of names I'd never come across were present in larger quantities, amongst single copies of American bestselling authors.

Winner of the Noble Prize for Literature, some books said. Magical realism, the description hinted. I was sold.

Unfortunately, I was not sold what I expected. Death at Intervals - a story about a country where, all of a sudden, people stop dying, never really manages to find momentum or energy. It does not help that it is written in an artistic (read: pretentious) format, which thinks it is funny. The text is almost unparagraphed, and there are no line breaks between lines of dialogue (nor is there attribution). Words and names are not capitalised, except at the start of sentences. It seems quirky and amusing for about two pages, but after that, the novelty fades.

The story itself reads more like a massive discourse about the central what-if. There are no characters in the first three quarters of the book, just functions. Prime Ministers. Officials. Family people. Maphia. Newspapermen. Philosophers. (As a matter of fact, come to think of it, I am not sure there is a single name in the entire book). Which is interesting, but none of these people are people. They are caricatures, or placeholders. The book reads like an executive summary of a novel that would have been ten times as long, had it had living, breathing characters in it.

But fairy tales do not need complex characters - archetypes should be enough. Is this a fairy tale, then? The tone and plot density might suggest as much, but if it is a fairy tale, it is told by a self-consciously intellectual artiste, to an audience of beret-wearing bohemians. Archetypes can be mesmerising - but the ones in this novel are bland.

The cover of the book promised a kind of magical realist, satirical masterpiece. Inside the cover was a magical realist, satirical "meh".
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