By Susan Tomaselli
From Poe (‘William Wilson’) to Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Grey), via Borges (‘The Other’) and Dostoevsky (The Double), the idea of a double is one of literatures richest fables.
In an attempt to shift depression, history teacher Tertuliano Máximo Afonso rents a B-movie on the recommendation of a colleague, but becomes troubled by the striking similarity between himself and one of the character actors. He begins to meticulously catalogue every appearance the actor makes in films by the same production company and, by process of elimination, deduces his identity. Contacting his double, inevitably, opens a Pandora’s box.
The actor Daniel Santa-Clara, himself a duplicate man of António Claro (Santa-Clara is his stage name), is first hostile, then upset, his wife even more so, that there is an exact copy, a doppelganger, the dead spit of himself. Tertuliano does not tell his girlfriend of the discovery, and keeping her in the dark has tragic ramifications. There is not enough room in the world for both men.
There is much to like in this book, especially Margaret Jull Costa‘s lucid translation. The real joy is, of course, Saramago’s manipulation of the language. “We have an odd relationship with words,” and Saramago’s tale, though simple in conception, is executed with a boldness – long continuous sentences which almost take up an entire page, detailed comic descriptions, and occasional winks to the reader,
Like nature, they say, a narrative abhors a vacuum, which is why, since Tertuliano Maximo Afonso has, in this interval, done nothing worth telling, we had no option but to improvise some padding to more or less fill up the time required by the situation. Now that he has decided to take the video out of its box and put it in the video player, we can relax.
that make The Double, perhaps not his strongest work, but a rewarding read.
The Double by Jose Saramago
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa