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Customer reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Death at Intervals
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on 19 March 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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on 26 March 2010
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. The Funeral directors have no business but manage to get the Government to make the burying of pets by funeral directors mandatory! And then because no one is dying but is essentially in suspended animation i.e. still sick and on the verge of death - hospitals and homes for the elderly stark to clog up. This leads to the amusing criminilisation by the maphia (deliberate misspelling) of getting people across the border to die. Of course people not dying creates all sorts of problems for the Church, which Saramago's makes fun of - although is a life in suspended animation and not being able to die much of life?

This is all well and good and very amusing. The prose is of the usual Saramago standard - kind of stream consciousness at times with lots of not quite non-sequiturs. Then we enter into the second half of the book where death which now becomes personified repents of abolishing death and decides to usher in a new way where people are sent a letter in advance of their death. I found this part of the book lesss sucessful and I felt my interest flagging (which is unusal for me when reading Saramago).

In conclusion, I have given this book 4 stars because for me Saramago's litte asides and humour and mad prose style is always a welcome diversion for me. But the 2 halved nature of the book which did not coalesce well for me meant that my feeling is that this is not one his best.

If you want to understand why Saramago is regarded as tops, read "Blindness" or "The Cave" or "All the Names"
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on 3 June 2011
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.

At first this news is greeted with elation. It's the end of Death's age-old tyranny, the greatest fear suddenly removed. But then the complications begin. People still suffer, old people lie in bed on the verge of death but unable to cross over. Retirement homes go into crisis, as people continue to arrive but nobody leaves. Funeral homes and life insurance companies are also distraught, although the insurance people manage to land on their feet as always. Bishops and philosophers meet to discuss the implications of death's disappearance. The fear of death has long been the basis of morality and religion, after all.

Meanwhile, some people take matters into their own hands. A family decides to put its terminally ill father out of his misery by taking him across the border into the neighbouring country where death is still operating as usual. This becomes a trend and then starts a whole industry, which is soon taken over by the mafia. Then, after a while, death reappears...

It's an incredibly imaginative story, and well told. The style is very wordy, with some sentences stretching over pages, and multiple sub-clauses. The dialogue is also not separated by paragraphs or inverted commas, so it can be quite hard to follow sometimes. In general the wordiness works, simply because it is so well-written, but at times I wished he would just get on with it. I do have to put in a mention for the translator, Margaret Jull Costa, as well. This must have been a tough book to translate, and the fact that those long sentences are at all intelligible is a tribute to her ability.

This is the second book I've read by 1998 Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, the other one being The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. I enjoyed this one more, perhaps because of the fascinating premise and the deft way in which it was handled, or perhaps simply because his style takes some getting used to. I'd definitely like to read more of his work now.
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on 30 November 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)
The Magpie Murders - Omnibus Edition
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on 29 March 2012
I was sucked into this by the interesting premise of what would happen if, in just one country, everyone stops dying. The book was written in 2005 so this is years before the TV series Torchwood explored a similar idea. The first half of the book followed up the implications of both that premise and then a personified "death" changing their mind and switching to a whole new system of preannounced deaths. However both the character of "death" and the book itself then lose their way falling through whimsy, and sentimental tosh, to an increasingly obvious and dull conclusion.
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on 13 February 2010
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 book good, but not very good or amazing in any way, I also did not like the ending much. I did not hate it, but felt it could have been alot better- I have just started reading 'blindness' which is a much better written book by saramago and I would definately reccommend reading that one and not this one.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2008
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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on 28 December 2016
“One cannot be too careful with words, they change their minds just as people do.”

Saramago is in good form in this novel of two halves. The first concerns itself with the societal implications of deaths ceasing to happen. The second half with one individual who, once death starts to occur again, manages to avoid dying, and the personification of death herself.

As usual the actual story is just the bones on which Saramago builds to entertain the reader – and this is a salient point about the author’s writing stance: You are very definitely a reader and the narrator is at pains to fulfil his role and only to keen to point out when he doesn’t.

Saramago’s style is packed with contradictions which make reading his novels so rewarding: for example a complete lack of detail concerning where, when, to whom these events take place, but masses of conjecture about what a dog might have said if its owner would have asked it something. There is soaring prose prising open some truth, followed by dead ends of in logically delivered information. Its brilliant stuff.

“..the fate of hopes is always to breed more hopes, which is why, despite so many disappointments, they have not yet died out in the world..”
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on 16 May 2013
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. All were bought as used books - in very good condition true to description.
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on 18 July 2010
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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