The double

by José Saramago

Paper Book, 2004

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Orlando : Harcourt, 2004.

Description

What happens when Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a 38 year-old professor of history, discovers that there is a man living in the same city who is identical to him in every physical detail, but not related by blood at all. And what happens when each of these men attempt to investigate each other's lives?

User reviews

LibraryThing member John
The Double is a wonderful novel and reinforces, to my mind, the power and the ability of Saramago as a writer. The premise is deceptively simple: a divorced, mild-mannered, retiring history teacher, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, who is uncertain as to whether he wants to keep seeing his girlfriend, Maria de Paz, quite fortuitously one day discovers, by watching a movie video recommended by a friend to help to lift him out of the doldrums, that one of the actors, a bit-player, is his double. Not just a look-alike, but someone who is his exact double in every way. Afonso becomes obsessed with finding out the name of the double (Antonio Claro), and then contacts him and convinces an initially skeptical Claro (who is married) that they are, in fact, exactly the same, down to the fingerprints on their driving licences. A strange relationship and animus develops between the two men, each becoming in a sense the wraith of the other, with fateful and deadly consequences.

This is a novel about identity, how it is defined and how it can mutate. Afonso is unhappy with his life and with himself, in a vague, ill-defined sort of way and he can't even decide whether to dump Maria or go further and suggest that they live together. Discovering his double gives him not only an obsession, but a new definition of himself in opposition to his double. One day he practices putting on a fake beard so that he can scout-out Claro's neighbourhood and the shock of seeing himself look so different was, "as if, finally, he had come face-to-face with his own authentic identity. It was as if, by looking different, he had become more himself". But because his identity is not anchored in, and of, himself, Alfonso has no foundation, no grounds from which he can judge, and take, principled actions. This is part of the deadly consequences that emerge, following which, in a delightfully ironic twist, Alfonso is forced to completely subsume his identity in one that is, again, defined by externalities, not in and of himself. Nor can one simply point to the fickle finger of fate. There are numerous points along the way where Afonso is warned of the consequences of certain actions, or inactions, but he chooses not to exercise his will in this regard. As Saramago says, "all fate's reasons are human, purely human, and anyone who, basing themselves on the lessons of the past, says otherwise, be it in prose or in verse, doesn't know what he or she is talking about...". Afonso knows the story of Cassandra, and even explains it to his mother, but he still ignores various warnings. Ironically, Maria sees more deeply than Afonso, even when she does not know what is going on when she says, very early in the story, "Life....has taught me that nothing is simple, it just seems simple sometimes, and it's always when it looks simplest that we should most doubt it".

Saramago is interested not just in exploring identity. Afonso is impressed one day when Maria makes the comment that "Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered" (a quote from the Book of Contraries that Saramago puts forward at the beginning of the book). But I think that Saramago believes that while order may be imposed, it can never be absolute like the chemical composition of some compound that is fixed and immutable, because while it is tempting to look back to a straight line progression in history or in the lives of individuals, in fact the course of events, and lives, is better thought of as a flow of water fed by innumerable tributaries. Some of these tributaries run into the sand and have no lasting effect, others go subterranean and burst out later, others reinforce the direction of the flow, while still others are so powerful in themselves that they alter the direction of the basic flow of events or lives. Thus, Afonso talks about, "navigating the river of History back to the source, or thereabouts, always struggling to get a better understanding of the chain of events that has brought us where we are now...".

I like Saramago on religion: "It's worth considering that the reason so many theories about the origin of the universe have been created since the birth of speech and the word is that all of them, one by one, have failed miserably, with a regularity that augurs rather ill for the one that, with a few variations, is currently in vogue".

As a writer, Saramago is interested in the meaning and effects of words, and of communication. Saramago on words:

"...words...came into the world with a vague, diffuse destiny, as highly provisional phonetic and morphological clusters, however much, thanks perhaps to the inherited glow of their glorious creation, they may insist on passing themselves off, not so much in their own right, but on behalf of the thing they variably mean and represent, as immortal, undying, or eternal, depending on the taste of the person doing the classifying. This congenital tendency, which they proved unable to resist, became, over time a grave and possibly insoluble problem of communication, either in the collective or in the personal sense, getting their apples and their onions mixed up, their legacies with their legalese, the words usurping the place of the thing that, before, for better or worse, they had done their best to express, and out of which came, in the end, don't let the mask fool you, the thunderous clatter of empty cans, the carnivalesque cortege of canisters with labels on the outside but nothing inside, or merely, fading fast, the evocative smell of the food for mind and body that they once contained and conserved.".

And words cannot convey all feelings or describe everything. Maria, speaking to Afonso: "All the dictionaries put together don't contain half the terms we would need in order for us to understand each other".

The style of writing in this novel is interesting. The author is very much part of the book, with authorial asides peppered throughout the book, and the sense, sometimes, that the protagonists have lives and decisions of their own, independent of the author, which of course cannot be true because they are inventions of the author. More on the theme of identity. Finally, Afonso is often visited by Common Sense, a spirit-like presence that debates and argues with him, often to humourous effect; a guide that Afonso would have done much better to heed. But Common Sense is not always heeded, nor always present: "Unfortunately, common sense does not always appear when it is needed, and its brief absences have often resulted in some major dramas and in some of the most terrifying of catastrophes.".

The Double fulfills two important hallmarks of good writing: it forces you to think, and by bringing its own prism to bear, it forces a reconsideration of otherwise common events and patterns. A book well worth reading.
(Feb/06)
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a mild-mannered history teacher, is thunderstruck when he sees an exact duplicate of himself playing a bit part in the video of a B-grade movie he is watching. This "double" becomes his obsession, and Tertuliano, after several arguments with his Common Sense (which Common Sense lost) decides he must confront the double. His methodic, systematic search for the double is described in minute detail by an authorial narrator who from time to time inserts himself into the narrative to provide writing tips ("Those words, Nothing Happened, are used when there is an urgent need to move on to the next incident or when, for example, one does not quite know what to do with the character's own thoughts, especially if they bear no relation to the existential milieu in which the character is supposed to live and work. The teacher and fledging lover of videos, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, is in precisely this situation as he is driving his car. He was in fact thinking, a lot and very intensely, but his thoughts bore so little relevance to the last twenty-four hours he had just lived that if we were to take them into account and include them in this novel, the story we had decided to tell would inevitably have to be replaced by another....This would mean declaring all our hard work, these forty or so dense, difficult pages null and void...."), as well as some heavy-handed forboding ("It will not be long before we discover the tragic consequences of leaving unexcavated a second-world-war bomb in the belief that it was too old to explode." "Too late my friend, too late, you've opened Pandora's box and now you have to live with the consequences....").

This searching part of the book goes on perhaps a tad too long, but the novel really takes off when Tertuliano and his double begin to parry with each other. The novel then moves quickly to an unexpected ending.

Written in what I believe is Saramago's characteristic style--long run-on sentences, little punctuation, paragraphs that are pages long-- the novel is nevertheless easy to read, and very, very enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member TRHummer
If this book had been written by another author, it would likely receive 5 stars from me; it's a brilliant book. However, in comparison with Saramago's other work -- notably Blindness and The Gospel According To Jesus Christ -- this book could only receive 5 stars if I could give them 10. The Double is a dark comedy of manners, and as such it is a higher entertainment; the other books mentioned are penetrating works of genius of the highest order.

This is not to fault Saramago for having written this book; it is a proud accomplishment in his canon.
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LibraryThing member madhuri_agrawal
The thing I liked best about this book was the plot - it was so simple yet fantastic. The book outlines confusion of identities - how the appearance of a double muddles up a sense of self and poses a threat of being replaced, or being replaceable. Saramago has used un-punctuated sentences, which otherwise could have been confusing, but in such a psychoanalytical plot they serve to show the continuous thought process.
A brilliant book. One of my favorites.
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LibraryThing member Cygnus555
Saramago is one of the most amazing authors I have ever come across. Reading his work is very much like appreciating classical music. Some authors write bubble-gum books, some rock, some alternative... Jose Saramago writes classical. If you haven't read Saramago before, be prepared for writing that forces you to pay close attention to every word... it is like no other author I have ever read.

This book did not let me down. I love the premise of this book and feel that he masterfully deals with the topic. I literally gasped at one point of the book. After reading "The Cave", and now this book, I have realized that I must read all of his works. It is like being exposed, for the first time, to Mozart. You can't just listen to one of his works and not want to hear the rest.
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LibraryThing member Didou
Recommended in "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die", "The Double" is a fiction about the identity from the nobel prize author Jose Saramago.

It all began when Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, a history teacher, decided to watch a video that his colleague, the mathematics teacher, recommended to him. In that video he noticed that one of the supporting actor looked exactly like him. Curious, he tried to find him and investigated this out, not believing that there exists a person that is so identical, down to the mole and scar to himself. Thus the adventure begin.

What happens when you have a double that even your spouse could not even tell? How about your mother? Or your dog? Can they identify which one are you? What would be the consequences in finding out that you're no longer unique? A quote from the book:
... They say you can only hate someone if you hate yourself, but the worst of all hatreds must be the hatred that cannot bear another person to be the same, worse still if that sameness should ever become total.

The psychological prose-style format suits my taste really well. It was a bit slow in the middle but then towards the end the speed paced up. I found the first 10 pages and the last 10-20 pages are the most interesting. Perhaps the only wish to make this better is to extend this last 10-20 pages. I think there's a lot more psychologically that can happen here which will make the book more balanced. However overall I enjoyed the book immensely. I think it's a good material to be a movie.
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LibraryThing member frank_oconnor
Outstanding story. Gets better and better as it moves to a conclusion as satisfying as it is unexpected. The underlying commentary on cinema is brilliantly done.
LibraryThing member michaelbartley
Mr. Saramago makes demands on his readers, but he also offers great rewards. The story in a myth that leds to us looking at deeper issues. I enjoyed the book
LibraryThing member Laitue_Gonflable
The Double is a great example of Saramago's analogical narrative style. I have only read one other of his - Blindness - but both seem to me to begin conceptually with a simple question and proceed to explore the implication through to its logical conclusion.

In this case the question is "What if there were two completely identical people?" and the exploration unfolds as Tertuliano Maximo Afonso, school teacher, discovers a man who looks exactly (uncannily) like him playing a bit part in a rented B-movie.

Saramago's minimalist style is manifested at its most pristine here. The stripping away of large parts of formatting, coupled with the author’s own speculative intrusions, serves to keep us conscious of our presence as a reader because the story doesn’t just run smoothly on polished tracks like so much pulp fiction.

While this can be alienating at times, it is definitely a service to the novel, as its full value is not merely as anecdote but metaphor, and the more we can ponder what is happening the more we as readers get out of it. Saramago, like Kundera, definitely knows and believes this.

I am not sure if Saramago belongs to a school, or has ever been classified as being part of a literary movement but if I were to taxonomise in this case I would class his work as ‘neo-surrealist’, for although his premises and situations are fantastical, the exposition is firmly grounded in reality. At times, The Double made me literally laugh out loud just for its sheer brilliance. I could see through the farcical nature of the plot to see how sharp an observer of human nature Saramago is.

To look at it another way, the plot itself works well as a gripping gothic thriller, but layered atop that is a Kafkaesque analogy about identity, obsession and the darker side of humanity.

Regardless of where it sits in literary reception it is a work that can be at once thoroughly enjoyable and profoundly challenging.
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LibraryThing member KromesTomes
Written in almost a stream-of-consciousness style with looooong paragraphs and no dialogue breaks ... fitting ending.
LibraryThing member chyde
Stunning and hilarious. In competition with Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle for the best book I've read this year.
LibraryThing member Rocky_Wing
the last chapter is worth the read even if the rest of the book was pop fiction. however, this is just good writing, full of great characters, interesting plot and dialogue, psychology, universal themes, and some amazing moments of foreshadowing. particularly enjoyed the segments where tertuliano conversed with common sense. and that last chapter . . . leaves the reader to fill in the gaps at the end. i'm going to read more of his stuff for sure.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mijk
A no-star rating on 292 pages, actually. And tedious. But then I suppose having a double would be tedious, especially if you were a boring, misognynist, snob like the character in this book. It is awful enough that there is one of him, worse that you have to read about him, appalling that you are given his innermost thoughts (if they can be credited with that term) and a positive atrocity that there should be two of him. This is the worst of Saramago's books that I have read, like a rejected Almodovar script. And it isn't the translator's fault; Margaret Jull Costa simply had very little to work with in this one - nor it seems did Saramago, because the novel doesn't have much idea where to go after its basic, 'that would be interesting' premis. Saramago usually manages to hold my attention despite his distinctive style, invoking concentration and producing some startling insights, but this book I just wanted to finish. It is basically the kind of story that Ray Bradbury would have condensed into at most twelve pages, more probably four, here extrapolated to a long, dull, uneventful and unappealing 292 pages. And Bradbury would have told us more in that space than Saramago manages in this book. Maybe it was a bad time in his life. Anyway, all of the others of his that I have read are in a different league.… (more)
LibraryThing member kirstiecat
I thought this book was one of his most creative books and I really liked its exploration of identity. The protagonist sees a man who looks just like him as an extra in a film and goes on a mission to track down this person. Honestly, I'd probably give this one a 4 1/2 out of 5 but this format doesn't really allow it. I thought it was incredibly original even though it wasn't necessarily as profound as some of his others and I enjoyed it immensely. A word of warning for those not familiar with Saramago: his writing style takes a bit of getting used to because he doesn't use quotes to indicate when people are talking so it feels very confusing and stream of consciousness at first. A great example of experimental fiction!… (more)
LibraryThing member lucybrown
I picked this up from the remaindered table at Barnes and Noble. Interestingly, it was on a tabel labeled "Beach Reads." I can imagine some every confused folks lying about the sands of Myrtle Beach. This is one trippy mind-bending book. Saramago has a way of asking some really ingenious "what-ifs" and takes them on a crazy ride. In this book a teacher, a rather Milquetoast sort of fellow, finds he has a double, a not very successful actor. His quest to find his double has consequences he never imagined. Saramago was one of the greatest writers of his generations, certainly one of the most creative. That said his style is challenging. While taking break from reading, I left it laying on my bed; my eleven year old daughter picked it up and began reading it aloud. After a page, she declared, "has he ever heard of periods." To which I replied, he wasn't a big fan. She noted, "you can't stop anywhere, it's comma, comma, comma." Yes, but he has his reasons." She answered, "Yeah, it becomes addictive. It's like hypnosis." It does that, and more.… (more)
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The Double by Jose Saramago is the story of a history teacher who, while watching a film, spots a minor actor who is his exact physical double. This sends him into a frenzy of renting videos to try and find out who this actor is all the while hiding this activity from his lover, his mother and a suspicious colleague. When he finally discovers the identity of the actor, he first suggests a meeting.

These two men are much more than simply look-alikes, they share the same birth date, have the same birth mark and each one has a scar on a knee from a childhood injury. The history teacher becomes obsessed as to what will happen to one when the other dies. The actor is not happy with having a mirror image and the story escalates into a competition which does set the stage for the dramatic closing.

This was a very interesting story but unfortunately I had a difficult time with the reading. The author writes in long winding sentences, using a lot of commas but very few periods. The result is a rambling, often confusing narrative. There were also the author’s frequent asides to the reader which didn’t help to keep my concentration on the story. Although the author’s style was not to my taste, I did find the story very intriguing and one that I needed to keep reading to find out what happened next.
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LibraryThing member Bookish59
COULD NOT complete because of Tertuliano's rambling thoughts. I wanted to read this book because I read another book by Saramago which was excellent. But I couldn't follow along and though I wanted to continue I felt I would go nuts doing so. So because I did not read whole book, no rating.
LibraryThing member CindaMac
Having enjoyed and admired Jose Saramago’s The Cave I sought this one out. He is the master of “what if” - he gets you to accept the most implausible situations as if it is merely unusual rather than “science fiction.” By turns comical, intriguing and thrilling. The story centers around a man discovering he has a double (a possible twin is never mentioned) and tracking him down. I wasn’t expecting the writing to be so drole. I had to get used to his writing style but now I rarely even noticed the paucity of punctuation. Others have criticized the use of the narrator, which if at times is long winded, but adds both depth and amusement. I think The Double is even better than everyone’s favorite Blindness and ( my previous favorite) The Cave.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
A history teacher watches a video in which a bit player bears a striking resemblance to himself. He's obsessed with finding his double and upsets the order of the universe when he does. Who are we, really?

NOTE: Saramago is not a easy read. A sentence can take half a page. A paragraph more than a page. I find it's best to just surrender to his stream-of-consciousness style and keep reading. His works are thought-provoking.

UPDATE 2013 - the book was adapted to film with the title Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal
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LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
This one wasn't quite as gripping as some of his others. It was an intriguing concept and an interesting analysis of identity, but I wasn't convinced about the characters' actions and found the first half, in particular, slow to get going and overloaded with unexciting details.
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Rather slow but atmospheric book. Awesome ending!
LibraryThing member keebrook
as you read this review remember that i will tell you how to feel about it and remind you along the way just what you are supposed to be thinking, which means that you don’t need to think at all, in fact, and so the book also treats its readers in this way, repeating the main character’s name over and over and over each and every time he talks about him, pronouns, it seems, like usual punctuation and paragraph breaks, do not have any place in this book, and, it turns out, neither did i, since i stopped reading it just before the midpoint, it’s too bad, too, because the premise of this book is intriguing (the only reason i did not give 1 star) but the execution was pedantic and patronizing - of course, maybe i just can’t register the genius that is this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I find Jose Saramgo's work so challenging to read -- I really wish he would give up his unique style and use a few more paragraphs and quotation marks. As challenging as his style is for me, it's always worth the struggle in the end -- I find his stories to be so creative, interesting and different. "The Double" was no exception.

In this book Tertuliano watches a movie on video and find a man who is identical to him who has a bit part in the film. The man is a duplicate of Tertuliano down to the very scar on his knee and Tuertuliano becomes obsessed with finding out more about him.

The story takes some interesting twists and turns along the way. What I thought was the inevitable conclusion played out differently than I expected. I found this to be a clever and fun story.
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LibraryThing member perlle
It was hard to get past three things in this book. First, the formatting was bizarre. There were few paragraphs, many run-on sentences, not to mention no differentiation in dialogue existed in the text. It was hard to follow at times.

Next, you have to get past how far fetched the premise of the novel happens to be. And an ending that could easily make the reader roll his or her eyes.

Last is the extremely outdated paradigm in the book. The book was copyrighted in 2002 but the main character doesn’t seem to have ever heard of a computer. He spends several chapters on a task that could have easily be accomplished with a few mouseclicks. Other than cellphones, no modern technology is mentioned or used in the book.

Outside of that, the novel had some redeeming value. It explored some interesting territory concerning uniqueness and identity and disguise. The narrator’s take on a dog’s inner life won me over too.
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LibraryThing member bodachliath
Saramago was a unique literary magician, and this is one of his most hauntingly memorable books. This one is a real slow burner, which demands great patience of its reader, but like so many of Saramago's books it is full of dry humour.

The first part of the book might even be described as dull, as the long and apparently rambling sentences, conversations without quotes, and occasional asides from his omniscient narrator set up a picture of an unsympathetic and drab antihero, a depressed history teacher who watches a video recommended by a colleague and sees a bit part actor who is his exact likeness.

As in his modern parables Blindness, Seeing and Death at Intervals, Saramago takes an implausible scenario and slowly and inexorably explores the consequences - this one is a more personal story.

The last 100 pages or so are absolutely gripping and the denouement is very clever - many readers may not get that far, but those who do may find the book unforgettable.
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Original language

Portuguese
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