The Double by Jose Saramago

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Tertuliano Maximo Afonso started the engine, waited until she had gone into the building, and then, with a weary gesture, set the car in motion and drove home, where, patient and confident of its power, loneliness was waiting for him.

The Double by Jose Saramago begins when history teacher Tertuliano Màximo Afonso picks up, quite uncharacteristically, a frivolous comedy from the video store at a colleague’s recommendation. Unimpressed, he goes to bed only to awaken in the middle of the night by the unsettling feeling that someone is in his apartment. He is drawn to the living room where the feeling disappears as he comes face to face with the VHS. He puts the movie in again and this time sees what his subconscious had noted all along – that one of the extras in the movie is Tertuliano’s exact double.

Tertuliano tries to wipe the eerie coincidence from his mind, but fails. He is soon obsessed with finding out who the double is (because he is only an extra his name was listed in the credits amongst a host of other names without character roles) and then finally meeting him face to face – a decision that will lead to unforeseen consequences that will completely alter the life of both and those closest to them.

Reading Jose Saramago I’m never quite sure what to expect. I’ve read books like Blindness that I absolutely loved and then All the Names, which I proclaim only so-so. Because of this I’m always keen to pick up a new Saramago book, hoping for the best. In this case, The Double did not let me down. Partly because I love the idea of doppelgängers in general, but mostly because it was a compelling, if sometimes a little slow, story. He was able to take an unlikeable character and have us wishing the best (kinda) for him by the end and was also able to keep the reader on her toes with little twists and turns throughout the book.

Often I think to myself, or say aloud, “What did we do before the internet?” How did we settle arguments and win (or lose) bets without Wikipedia? How did we figure out who that actor is that looks so familiar without IMDB? Written in a world before the internet became a pervasive part of out every day lives, the story would have only been a paragraph long had the internet been around to help with his research. Although I have never encountered my doppelgänger on the big screen, I wonder what minor adventures I have missed out on without having to be patient and work to find the answers I need.

…the truth is that the inarticulate sounds which, quite against our wishes, occasionally emerge from our own mouth, are merely the irrepressible moans from some ancient pain or sorrow, like a scar suddenly making its forgotten presence felt again.

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