Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

Page 2 of 70

Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim – David Sedaris

I loved, loved, loved my first adventure with David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day, so I’m not ashamed to say I came to Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim hoping for more of the same. Such an approach would normally invite disappointment, but Sedaris totally delivered. This is the 2004 collection of 22 autobiographical essays, once again focused on the author’s upbringing, family, and his adult life. You’d think that well would run dry eventually, but Sedaris’s keen observational eye can pick out every last trickle.

Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim - David Sedaris - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim here.
(If you use an affiliate link on this page, like this one, I’ll earn a small commission which will help me get some new duds!)

Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim – and Sedaris’s whole schtick, more broadly speaking – is best summed up by the blurb on this edition. “Sedaris lifts the corner of ordinary life, revealing the absurdity teeming below the surface,”. He examines the neighbours who didn’t watch television (Us and Them), his own failed attempts to become a hippie (The Change In Me), and what becomes of the estate of the late Aunt Monie (so nicknamed as a portmanteau of “moan” and “money”, another delightful example of Sedaris telling you everything you need to know with one small detail; Monie Changes Everything). There are snort-laughs to be found in every essay, guaranteed.

He mines his family, deep – even so far as to describe their very resentment of his mining them for content. I can understand the ever-present and irresistible temptation, though, because the whole Sedaris clan, as he describes them, are just as sharp and hilarious as he is. Take, for instance, this moment of radical honesty from his black-sheep sister, Tiffany:

We climb the few steps to her porch and she hesitates before pulling the keys from her pocket. ‘I haven’t had a chance to clean,’ she says, but the lie feels uncomfortable, and so she corrects herself. ‘What I meant to say is that I don’t give a fuck what you think of my apartment. I didn’t really want you here in the first place.’

Dress Your family in corduroy and denim (page 198)

He cleans Tiffany’s apartment for her, and in return she dubs him Fairy Poppins, which he says “wouldn’t bother [him] if it weren’t so apt”. I re-read this passage over and over again, until I was crying with laughter.

Nothing is off limits for Sedaris: his family, his neighbours, even strangers he encounters on the street. He doesn’t hesitate to take aim at other countries, other religions, other cultures, a prospect that would normally set the woke reader’s teeth on edge. And yet, Sedaris once again proves himself the master of poking fun, even when he’s poking down (Six To Eight Black Men), because he pokes nobody harder than himself. He lays his own faults and shortcomings bare, without ever once sliding into the “confessional” or the pity-seeking. It’s all done in the name of fun, with maybe a splash of poignancy thrown in for good measure.

I was a little confused, when I got to the end, by the title: Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. There was not one mention of his family’s exploits in textiles. After all, Me Talk Pretty One Day perfectly encapsulated and reflected the content of that book, and was drawn from the title of one of the essays it contained. I was ready to chalk it up to an unsolved mystery, another quirk of Sedaris’s charm, but an answer came to me via an unverified anecdote on the Wikipedia page: “At a public appearance in Cleveland, Ohio on October 12, 2010, Sedaris explained when he was under a deadline for a title and was getting desperate, his boyfriend Hugh had a dream in which he saw someone reading a book entitled, in French, Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim. Sedaris knew then that he had his title, even though it had nothing to do with the contents of his book.” So, there you have it!

If you’ve never read Sedaris and you’re wondering where to start, I’d still say Me Talk Pretty One Day is the best option… but I’d recommend having a copy of Dress Your Family In Corduroy In Denim to hand, because you’ll want to pick it up as soon as you’ve converted.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim:

  • “I believe David Sedaris is a modern day Mark Twain.” – Cheryl
  • “Interesting book. Arrived promptly.” – JJ
  • “Not a book about fashion.
    Which I should have probable guessed because no-one wears corduroy anymore.” – Katie Krackers
  • “Pairs well with: Gordon’s gin and grapefruit juice” – Michele Feltman Strider
  • “I and my friends have never got this type of writing. Maybe we are aliens, or maybe you have to be from New York or something.” – Mark Anthony

8 Plot Twists That Will Live In Your Head Rent-Free

When I put together my post on what makes for a good plot twist, I started thinking back to some of my favourites… and never stopped! That’s the thing about great plot twists: they live in your head rent-free for a long, long time. Here are some of the books with plot twists that are still living in mine.

8 Plot Twists That Will Live In Your Head Rent-Free - Keeping Up With The Penguins
(I don’t know about you, but my rent ain’t free, so please consider using an affiliate link on this page – I’ll earn a small commission on every purchase!)

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Okay, given that the plot twist in this case has become idiomatic, it probably won’t knock your socks off (even if you’re reading it for the very first time). But can you imagine what it would have been like back in 1886, reading Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde hot off the presses? In the story, London lawyer Gabriel John Utterson hears a story about a creep named Hyde, who beat up a kid and paid the family off with a cheque drawn in the name of his mate Dr Jekyll. A few hurdles later, the truth is revealed: they’re the SAME PERSON! Mind = blown! (Or, it would’ve been…) Read my full review of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde here.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jane Eyre is mostly known for the quote-unquote romance, and the proto-feminist ideas communicated through first-person consciousness (a ground-breaking writing technique at the time). But let’s shine a spotlight on the plot twist that has lived in my head rent-free ever since I read it: the fact that the leading man wasn’t just brooding and mysterious, he had an actual wife that he locked in the attic and basically abused to the brink of insanity. I mean… what?! The Brontës sure did level-up on Austen, whose “bad boys” were – at worst – kind of rude at parties. Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood - Book Laid Face Up on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For the most part, A Single Man goes the way that you’d expect. It’s the story of a day in the life of a man grieving the loss of his partner, in a time and place where their relationship was hidden and his status as a widower completely invisible to those around him. It’s heart-wrenching, and awful, but Isherwood’s skill with the pen makes it compelling enough to devour in a single sitting. Plus, his friends and neighbours are kooky enough to keep it interesting. And then you get to the final pages, the end of the day, and it ends with a gut-punch you never saw coming, one that will surely have you reaching for the tissue box. Read my full review of A Single Man here.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty - Book Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If a book’s called Big Little Lies, you’ve got to expect a mind-blowing secret or two to come out. Moriarty sure delivers! It wasn’t exactly a surprise that the nervous waify young mother was the victim of a sexual assault, but that her new best friends know the perpetrator? That he’s actually married to one of them? That it all boils over at a school fundraiser trivia night, where one of the parties ends up dead? This book is Moriarty at her absolute finest, a gloriously twisty domestic thriller that’s sure to keep you entertained on your next beach holiday. Read my full review of Big Little Lies here.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - Book Laid Face Up On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

We really had a glut of “girl” thrillers for a minute there, and most of them were pretty average. None of them quite lived up to the best-seller that started it all: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. For the first half of the novel, it all seems fairly standard. A promising young woman missing, presumed dead (or, at least, not in good shape), and a dodgy husband under suspicion. He insists that he’s innocent, but don’t they all? And then Flynn reveals the truth to the reader, in a delicious dramatic irony that will have you gripping the pages so hard your knuckles turn white. Many have tried, and almost as many have failed, to replicate this brilliant unreliable-narrator plot twist that will live in your head rent-free. Read my full review of Gone Girl here.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi - Susanna Clarke - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Speaking of unreliable narrators: it’s not often you find one that’s unreliable but not unlikeable. Piranesi finds that magical balance. Even though Piranesi’s story is told through his diaries, the reader quickly realises that he doesn’t exactly understand the truth of what is going on. Piranesi’s mistakes and oversights aren’t self-serving slips of the ego, they are a genuine product of his environment and his long-term isolation. That’s how he wiggles his way into your heart, and then when the truth of his circumstances are finally revealed in full, it will break open for him. Unlike most books that are predicated on plot twists, Piranesi is one that you can read over and over again and still find something new to appreciate every time.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings - Sayaka Murata - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Of course, when you pick up a book by Sayaka Murata, you know you’re in for something weird… but there’s no way to anticipate just how weird when it comes to Earthlings. It starts with a child who doesn’t fit in. Her parents favour her sister, and her best friend is a stuffed hedgehog. She decides she must be an alien, from the planet Popinpobopia – but is this a flight of childish fancy, or a hint to something darker? Earthlings doesn’t so much twist as it does veer wildly off course, but either way the ending will leave your mouth hanging open and your eyes bugging out of your head. This is the book that made Muraka an automatic-buy author for me.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler - book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alright, if you’re a regular Keeper Upperer, you had to know this was coming. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves sets the bar (the high, high bar) against which all literary fiction plot twists shall be measured. What seems to be a regular family drama takes a turn that you can’t possibly see coming, about seventy pages in. It blew my mind so hard, it was the first review for Keeping Up With The Penguins in which I provided an actual spoiler warning! All I’ll say here is that it’s a reveal that challenges all of your assumptions and prompts you to reexamine everything, in the book and in your personal ethics. This remains one of my most-often recommended books, and it never fails to surprise and delight. Read my full review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves here.

Too Much Lip – Melissa Lucashenko

Too Much Lip, on its face, sounds like a big ask of Australian author Melissa Lucashenko. How can you take all of the worst stereotypes of First Nations families – drinking, crime, welfare, violence – and give them texture? Make them compelling? Heck, make them funny? It’s a tall order, but Lucashenko pulls it off.

Too Much Lip - Melissa Lucashenko - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Too Much Lip here.
(If you use an affiliate link on this page, like this one, I’ll earn a commission – but not too much!)

As per the blurb: “Wise cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley.” As Kerry admits herself in the narrative, “too much lip” is her “problem” from “way back” – she just can’t help but say what’s on her mind (and it’s not always kind or flattering for those around her, particularly her family).

This book presents an Australian brand of what might elsewhere be called magical realism. The first conversation Kerry has in the novel takes place with three cheeky crows who are witness to her exodus from Queensland – backpack of stolen loot in tow. It sets the tone for the black (blak) comedy that is to follow in Too Much Lip, one that weaves together ancient culture and contemporary injustice.

What struck me immediately in Too Much Lip is the masterful way in which Lucashenko paints a picture of a culture continuing, but scarred. Kerry’s nephew Donny’s totem animal, the whale, is the perfect metaphor.

“If Granny Ava was still alive he might have learned to call them in off some coastal headland, Kerry reflected. Mighta been taught them special songs, and all them special whale ways, but Uncle Richard in Lismore had only passed on the fact of the totem, and the lingo name for the animal. It was up to Donny what he did with that in the twenty-first century.”

Too Much Lip (Page 51)

The story moves from Kerry’s discomfort at returning to her hometown, to a grassroots protest against the local mayor’s plan to install a jail on their sacred land, to the uncovering of long-buried family secrets. Underpinning it all is a cycle of inter-generational trauma, suffered and inflicted in turn.

While the violence and abuses of the past don’t excuse those perpetrated in the present (Lucashenko isn’t about to give anyone, black or white, a free pass), they go a long way to explaining it and providing all-too-often-absent context for all-too-common problems in families like the Salters. That said, Lucashenko doesn’t push the reader too hard, holding back from drowning us in misery (as she rightly could have) while providing enough to put us squarely on Kerry’s side – even when she’s making terrible decisions that will have you gnashing your teeth in frustration.

Too Much Lip blends The Castle and the Beverly Hillbillies with a storytelling tradition older than any of us can fathom – a unique combination that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. I was particularly taken with Lucashenko’s use of dialect, which weaves the narrative and the dialogue together; even though the narration is third-person, a step removed from Kerry and her family, it’s still rich in Bundjalung language and northern NSW/regional QLD vernacular. And in the Salters, Lucashenko has created a family that, yes, drink and lash out and steal and vandalise, but also love and share and laugh and stand together when the shit goes down.

(I must offer a specific trigger warning, though, for a few horrific incidents of cruelty to animals, towards the end of Too Much Lip – I found it especially confronting, so I’d imagine others might as well.)

It’s particularly important that, when you pick up Too Much Lip (which you really should), you don’t skip past the author biography and afterword, which provide essential context for understanding this story. Lucashenko is a Goorie author of Bundjalung and European heritage, and while the specific locations and details of Too Much Lip are imagined, she says “virtually every incidence of violence in these pages has occurred within my extended family at least once,”. She also adds that the epigraph “refers to my great-grandmother Christina Copson who, as a Goorie woman in Wolvi in 1907, was arrested for shooting her attempted rapist (also Aboriginal). Christina later beat the charge against her in a Brisbane court, unapologetically stating that although she had shot her attacker in the hip, she had been aiming for his heart and she was only sorry that she had not killed him,”. It’s clear where Kerry gets her spirit, and her lip.

In addition to writing acclaimed fiction (Too Much Lip is her sixth novel, and it won the Miles Franklin award in 2019), Lucashenko is also an amazing advocate and activist. In addition to her work championing First Nations writing, she also co-founded Sisters Inside, a Queensland organisation that provides programs, services, and support for women and girls who have been incarcerated. If you’re looking to do something to end the terrible legacy of state violence against First Nations people in this country (and pay the rent, while you’re at it), supporting Sisters Inside would be a great place to start.

Important reminder: Keeping Up With The Penguins is a project undertaken on the lands of the Gadigal people, of the Eora nation, land that was never ceded or sold.

10 Offbeat Books About Death

Death is the only certainty in life (apart from taxes, obviously). And yet we find it really difficult to talk about! That’s where books come in. In books about death, we can explore ideas and scenarios and solutions that we might not feel comfortable bringing up with friends and family. There are a lot of self-help-y type books around on dealing with death and grief, and there are as many (more!) fiction books that feature a significant character’s untimely passing, but my favourites are the slightly more offbeat books about death. Here are ten of the best…

10 Offbeat Books About Death - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If you buy a book through an affiliate link on this page, I’ll earn a small commission. I won’t DIE without it, but it’d be nice.

The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey

The Morbids - Ewa Ramsey - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Everyone’s afraid of death, at least a little bit, but Caitlin fears it more than most. She silences the Thoughts by plunging headfirst into any and every distraction: walking, work, booze, boys… When she finds out her best friend Lina is getting married, though, she realises none of it will be enough. She’s going to have to tackle her demons for real. That’s why she joins meetings of The Morbids every Tuesday, a support group that promises “a unique first-step program for treatment of anxiety, specifically as related to death and dying”. The Morbids is a strange, sparkly novel, a romantic comedy about death and the ways we cope.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint Exupery - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Little Prince begins with the narrator describing grown-ups, specifically their natural inability to perceive or understand the things that are truly important. It’s a sweet beginning, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a fluffy story aimed at the under-six set. In fact, this is a deeply moving parable about death and friendship, which concludes (spoiler alert) with the death of the narrator’s possibly-imaginary-but-real-in-his-heart friend, the titular Little Prince. It’s an incredibly moving story, one unlike any I’ve read in contemporary children’s books, and it’s full of aphorisms. This would be the perfect book about death to help adults and children move through the issue together. Read my full review of The Little Prince here.

The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The Weekend - Charlotte Wood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

When I recommend The Weekend, I usually describe it as a book about the vitality of older women. Looking at it from another vantage, though, it’s a book about death that brings three vital older women together. I suppose you could consider it the archetypal story of aging: your life and passions continue, but inevitably your nearest and dearest will pass, and you’ll have to reckon with a life in their wake. This is a brilliant Australian novel about friendships, memory, and connection, set over the course of a single weekend, and predicated on that oft-unacknowledged fact of life: cleaning up what is left behind by those who have passed.

and my heart crumples like a coke can by Ali Whitelock

and my heart crumples like a coke can - Ali Whitelock - Keeping Up With The Penguins

It’s difficult for me to review or describe and my heart crumples like a coke can with impartiality, because Ali Whitelock is a dear, dear friend of mine. With that in mind, believe me when I tell you that this is one of the most incredibly relatable poetry collections you will ever have the privilege of reading. Whitelock’s relationship with her father – as dissected in this collection, as well as her brilliant memoir Poking Seaweed With A Stick And Running Away From The Smell – is complicated to say the least, and yet his passing is depicted with the pathos, humour, and devastation experienced by all who have lost a parental figure.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak - book laid on wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

For countless young adults, in Australia and around the world, The Book Thief is their first emotional connection with the Holocaust (back in my day, it was The Diary Of A Young Girl, but I suspect that’s fallen out of favour given this one’s perennial popularity). Narrated by Death, as a personified character, it makes the horrors of World War II tangible for youngsters, and probably quite a few adults as well. As far as books about death go, obviously it’s written to pull on your heartstrings, but it’s also a uniquely accessible post-modern approach that will ventilate grief for readers of all ages. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.

A Grave Friend by Jason Edward Harris

A Grave Friend - Jason Harris Edwards - Keeping Up With The Penguins

A Grave Friend is pretty much a black comedy take on Cats In The Cradle, with a more optimistic ending. Jason Edward Harris takes a laughably macabre subject matter – the discovery of a dead body – and, alongside gorgeous watercolour illustrations by the incredible Kyla Hayes, turns it into something beautiful. Corpse Carl meets a gang of kids that will change his life (or death, as it were). This is one of those books about death to pick up when you can’t tolerate a treatise, when you need to look at something beautiful and remember that the devastating and the uplifting can exist side-by-side. A must-read for fans of Max Porter’s Lanny!

New Animal by Ella Baxter

New Animal - Ella Baxter - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“Raw” is an over-used word for honest and forthright stories about sex and death, but that’s exactly what New Animal is: it’s the steak tartare of literature. Amelia is the cosmetician in her modern family’s funeral parlour, “well known in this town full of retirees and clumsy tradespeople” (ha!). She also likes to de-stress from her days of dressing corpses with the company of young men (ahem). Baxter could have easily veered into the smutty or the maudlin (or both!) with such a story, but she balances her unique brand of dark comedy with expertise that belies her early career status. I recommend this above all books about death for twenty-somethings experiencing it for the first time.

The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Joan Didion

Okay, maybe this doesn’t strictly fit the books about death brief, but whenever someone asks me for a book about grief, the first one that springs to mind is The Year Of Magical Thinking. Joan Didion is kind of the Madonna of writing. Just when you think her moment has “passed”, she re-invents herself and finds a new way to push boundaries for a new generation. This is the book about the fall-out from her husband’s very-sudden and very-unexpected death. She manages to remain balanced, contemplative, and measured in her writing, all the while showing the reader the true depths of her horror and despair in the depths of tragic loss… truly a masterclass in how memoirs should be written.

The Love That Remains by Susan Francis

The Love That Remains - Susan Francis - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Francis openly admits her obsession with finding (and writing about) the truth. The Love That Remains is her memoir in which she finds it, over and over again. With her adoptive mother declining in late-stage Alzheimer’s, she went looking for answers about her past. Along the way, she found Wayne, the love of her life. It should have been a happy ending… but for Wayne’s untimely death. Francis discovers new truths that challenge everything she thought she knew about the man she married. She’s forced to confront uncomfortable questions: how well can we ever really know a person? Where are love’s bounds? This is the perfect read for fans of Liz Gilbert.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

As I Lay Dying is, if nothing else, a slow burn. At the time of reading (mostly at my husband’s urging), I wasn’t all that impressed. And yet, I find myself referring back to it more and more as time passes. That’s partially because the chapter written from the perspective of the titular dying character is one of the best men-write-women pieces I have ever read. But also, it’s because this is an incredible meditation on a family’s grief, disguised as a Southern gothic. Every character, from the husband through to the youngest child, gets a say, and each of them offers a unique insight into what Addie’s death means. Read my full review of As I Lay Dying here.

Death At Intervals – José Saramago

Here we have yet another book I came to via the wonderful The To Read List Podcast: Death At Intervals (or, in the U.S., Death With Interruptions). Aside from their recommendation, it was the premise that had me hooked. In an unnamed country, on January 1 of a brand new year, death just… stops. “New year’s eve had failed to leave behind it the usual calamitous trail of fatalities,” the narrator explains on page one. Death is on strike. Come on, Keeper Upperers! Tell me that doesn’t pique your curiosity!

Death At Intervals - Jose Saramago - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Buy Death At Intervals here.
(If you use an affiliate link, like this one, after a short interval I’ll earn a small commission!)

People who are unwell or injured neither improve or deteriorate – they simply don’t die. Initially, the population is dancing in the streets. I mean, it sounds like great news, right? No death! Woohoo! But of course, before long, some unanticipated consequences take the shine off the apple. Undertakers and funeral directors face bankruptcy. Religion has to take a new approach. A black market emerges, a “maphia” (spelled that way to avoid confusion with the traditional mafia) who will smuggle the elderly across the border where they can “expire” naturally. All of the outcomes are logical, once Saramago lays them out for you, but they’re definitely not the first ones that spring to mind when you hear “eternal life”.

Although Death At Intervals isn’t a comedy per se, I found it hilarious how quickly the “disappearance of death” became a bureaucratic and administrative nightmare. Saramago dedicates a lot of time to pondering: what’s to become of all the life insurance policies? Would legislating the need for pet funerals save the floundering funeral industry? He also interrogates what this situation would mean on the household level. After all, if hospitals are overwhelmed with terminally ill people who won’t die, the logical next step is that they’d be sent home to their families. What’s to become of them? Can we just stick Grandpa in the attic until death starts up again? (That’s where the aforementioned “maphia” come in, angels of death as it were, offering a solution to families who can’t bear the financial and emotional burden of caring for the nearly-dead indefinitely).

Saramago also delves briefly(ish) into the philosophy of linguistics. See, the “disappearance of death” really throws all the philosophers into a post-modern tizzy.

“It seems you don’t understand that words are the labels we stick on things, not the things themselves, you’ll never know what things are really like, nor even what their real names are, because the names you gave them are just that, the names you gave them…”

Death At Intervals (Page 64)

In the second half of Death At Intervals, we transition from treating death (or the absence of it) as a phenomenon, and she (yes, she) becomes an actual, anthropomorphised character. She decides to get back to work (“The seven months that death’s unilateral truce had lasted produced a waiting list of more than sixty thousand people on the point of death,”, page 98) and she also decides to try something new: sending letters to the soon-to-be deceased, warning them of what’s to come. She also announces this new development in a letter written to the media, and then chastises them when they correct her spelling and punctuation.

The final twist comes in the form of one of her you’re-going-to-die-soon letters that is mysteriously returned. An otherwise-unremarkable cellist, against all odds, appears to have defied his mortal fate. This drives “death” up the wall, and she devotes all of her energies to unraveling the mystery of why this man simply won’t die.

Saramago wrote Death At Intervals in his native Portuguese (original title: As Intermitências da Morte) and it was first published in 2005. This edition was translated into English by Margaret Jull Costa (#NameTheTranslator!) and published three years later. Although it’s a short book, just a couple hundred pages, it reads like a far longer one, mostly due to the fact that… well, I hesitate to say this about a Nobel Laureate, but here goes: Saramago writes weird. There are almost no paragraph breaks, not even for dialogue. Oh heavens, the dialogue – not only does he not use inverted commas, he doesn’t even break the sentence! You’ve got to read each page a couple of times to make sure you’re really clear on who’s saying what to whom. Apparently, this is Saramago’s “thing” (eschewing the agreed-upon rules of grammar and punctuation), and that’s almost enough to put me off trying any of his other books.

Still, if you can grit your teeth and put your grammar-pedantry aside, Death At Intervals is a really interesting book. It’s a modern satire dressed up as magical realism. It might force you to confront all kinds of heavy questions you weren’t expecting – could humanity exist without mortality? what about religion or philosophy? not to mention what it says about euthanasia! – but Saramago manages to keep it fun.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Death At Intervals:

  • “Having a hard time reading this book. It’s implausible of course but dry and uninteresting” – sheri
  • “interesting look on life and death. i enjoy all of Jose Saramago’s take on life.” – Lauren
  • “Wonderful author, great story, too bad he has passed away.” – hdf

« Older posts Newer posts »