Remember the movie Full Metal Jacket, directed by Stanley Kubrick? How half the movie is dedicated to the Marines in boot camp, and the other half focuses on them in battle and it’s almost like you’ve watched two separate but connected films? Each part can stand on its own. That’s how Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago felt. I’ve never read a book quite like this. It’s terrifying, funny, devastating, witty, and unforgettable. It’s probably more, but I can’t think of that many adjectives at the moment.
The premise is this: what if Death, who we discover is female, stopped killing people in a certain country? People just stop dying, including the ones who were suffering and close to death. It might sound like a great deal, but you soon realize, in only a way Saramago can explain, how much of a curse it can be. In the first half of this book, the societal impacts of no death (and only no HUMAN deaths in a certain area) is explored. He thinks of everything down to the most minute detail; how eternal life impacts politics, families, neighboring countries where death continues, funeral homes, doctors, undertakers, etc. Because when no one dies, but there is still suffering, how much of a life can that be? There is no main character or plot line for a vast majority of the book, but there doesn’t need to be because Saramago keeps you horrified with his witty musings.
All of this leads to what I refer to as the second part (although the book isn’t actually sectioned off), where we meet Death. She has her reasons for going on her murder strike, and has her regrets. She’s ruthless, but let’s remember she has a thankless job. Her decision to strike leads her to the discovery of a person she can’t kill, and so begins her infatuation with the man who has her beat. And since she’s dead, she only has her scythe to open up to. An emotional support scythe! Which in it of itself shows that beneath the facade, Death cares. And is maybe a bit lonely.
Saramago is so good. He can take even the most depressing and disturbing subject matter and make it entertaining and digestible. Word to the wise: You’ll probably want to read something a little lighter after this one.
Rating: 4/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️