All The Names by Jose Saramago

I know I said I wouldn’t write any more reviews, so its good that this is not a review but awe-struck, gushing adulation. What a book! Senhor Jose works in the Central Registry and passes his time collecting namecards and details of famous people. One day, an unknown woman’s card enters his collection by mistake and thus does Senhor Jose’s obsession start. Of course this book and the story are many things - a short treatise on the State, on chance, on identity and happiness, on obsession, on life and death and of course, on talking ceilings.

I don’t know why Saramago isn’t better known. Perhaps its because he writes in Portugese and not Spanish. At any rate, this is first class writing. Makes me want to go out and buy all the Saramago(e?)s. The writing is incredibly dense and incredibly sparse at the same time. The words are all bunched together with little punctuation and the dialogue all mixed up with the other words, but it works incredibly well in the hands of a master. It’s like reading a creme-brulee. The texture of the pages make it look like it’s going to be hard, but what you get is delicious prose that slides down your throat like caramel.

As a kid I was taught that short sentences make for good writing. While this may generally be true, it seems no one told Saramago that. He writes like people speak, with little more than a comma to indicate that he’s now going to go off at a tangent and talk about something else. And yet totally absorbing, clearly delineated and deeply philosophical in the sense that the book leaves you with many questions which you would ask if only you could find the words.

Saramago lived 68 years in Portugese-induced obscurity until he was discovered. Ten years later, they gave him the Nobel Prize.