I did not really enjoy Saramago's The Double
. To begin with, it's a sloppy handling of a theme which has been done over-and-over, and better done at that: Dickin's The Tale of Two Cities
, Poe's "William Wilson," Nabokov's Despair
and Dostoyevsky's The Double
were all better handlings of the doppelgänger theme than this, I felt. This felt kind of like a more sinister "The Parent Trap" or dropped episode of The Twilight Zone
(dropped for being too long maybe). It wasn't bad, I won't say that. Everything was there: identity, doubles, blunt bludgeoning of routine, life and death, ideals and jealousies, etc. But at the end of the book I just felt that it was marginal: vain attempts at humor, tedious longeurs, unidimensional supporting characters. This might have made a fun, quirky novella, but as a full novel it hits a flat note.
The issue of identity is brought into the twenty-first century, Tertuliano Maximo Afonso feels depressed and useless, and so decides to watch some movies to cure his ennui. He has a girlfriend, Maria da Paz, who he kind of likes, and a job which he kind of cares about. While watching the movies he notices that one of the extras in the movie is his exact double! His life suddenly takes on meaning to solve the mystery of his exact look-alike, he finds his name and ultimately confronts him. They briefly switch lives, and tell each other a bit about themselves. They have the same birthday, but the double (claims he) was born before Tertuliano, which Tertuliano takes to mean that he is the copy, the supernumerary.
It was said that one of them, either the actor or the history teacher, was superfluous in this world, but you weren't, you weren't superfluous, there is no duplicate of you to come and replace you at your mother's side, you were unique, just as every ordinary person is unique, truly unique.
Until the confrontation, the book feels a but lifeless: only Tertuliano has any interest for the reader, even Maria seems to be only a silhouette populating the stage of shadows which is The Double
. But the climax cannot hold, it falls away fast after their initial inspection to confirm their identicalness (same height: check, same build: check, same dick: check, etc.). The Double
read like a story which came to Saramago as a scene (Faulkner notoriously envisioned all his books as one scene, and the book grew around that scene/image), the scene of confrontation, but the rest, the sprawl, feels sloppily done. The prose is well done in many sections, though awkward in others, but the story feels like a dwarf trying to fill a giant's suit: there is too much excess, not enough substance. The characters are too small for the world they populate, and the story is too narrow for the binding.