Tomorrow's New York Times Magazine features a long article on Jose Saramago, author of Baltasar and Blimunda, Blindness, and my favorite, The Cave:
Saramago’s most distinctive trademark is his punctuation, or rather the lack of it. His fictions are constructed in run-on sentences disrupted by only commas, a flood of prose in which narrative observation, individuals’ thoughts and dialogue go unmarked. In addition, many of his books refer to one another, and all the characters talk exactly alike, giving their conversations the feel of an internal monologue. It is as if a continuous reel of a silent film were being projected in a movie theater that is empty save for one extremely garrulous spectator.
Now, Saramago is one of my favorite writers, but only sometimes. I've found some of his books - especially The Stone Raft - all but unreadable. His strengths can get the better of him; he can let his allegory obstruct his narrative, his characters can be flat and indistinguishable, and the metaphorical unreality he cultivates can seem mannered. But he writes unlike anyone else out there, which makes him both frustrating and completely rewarding to read, and deadly for the inexperienced writer to attempt to imitate.
I was also disappointed - but not completely surprised - to learn this:
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Saramago has since regarded his literary fame chiefly as a means of spreading his political convictions. A member since 1969 of Portugal’s notoriously hard-line Communist Party, Saramago spends much of his time at international forums, where he tends to deliver rather dull, pedantic speeches denouncing the European Union or the International Monetary Fund.
Hard-line communism is a political leaning I just don't understand. But to oppose Portugal's Salazar dictatorship was to be a communist, and crotchety old Saramago doesn't seem one to do or think anything half-way:
“I’m not delivering any news if I tell you the world is a piece of hell for millions of people,” Saramago said to me. “There are always a few who manage to find a way out, humans are capable of the best as well as the worst, but you can’t change human destiny. We live in a dark age, when freedoms are diminishing, when there is no space for criticism, when totalitarianism — the totalitarianism of multinational corporations, of the marketplace — no longer even needs an ideology, and religious intolerance is on the rise. Orwell’s ‘1984’ is already here.”