Friday, June 14, 2013

The Lives of ThingsThe Lives of Things by José Saramago

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'The Lives of Things' is a collection of six short stories originally published as 'Objecto Quase' in 1978. The epigraph by Marx marks, uninhibitedly, themes political and social which the author essentially elaborated upon in his later fiction, especially in 'The Stone Raft', 'The Cave' and the tour de force, 'Blindness'.
  'The Chair' opens the book, in the stream of consciousness narration, and obliquely reflects on the political state of affairs under the Salazar regime. The subject of the fall of the chair takes the reader on a trip to imagine, understand and question the conceptual contours of this fall which, in the case, was inevitable. Still, the approach of presenting the manifestation of the rot, the behind-the-scenes work of an essential and yet seemingly inadvertent opposition set up by the too much-ness of one's proclaimed authority, is tongue in cheek to say the least.
  'Reflux' and 'Things' basically construct the Oppressor-Oppressed dialectic. Yet, Saramago's expression holds the bite, early fiction as it is:

"All kings are great, by definition and birth:
any king who might wish otherwise will wish in vain...".

The surreal premise of 'Things' discloses how everyday objects like doors and stairs are up in rebellion against the authoritarian state and its comfortable and safe 'class' representatives. It is 'things', here, which question the one thing which is at grave and hopeless danger of being overrun by death: the humane in humans; what is it to be human? Do they need to care?
  'Embargo', another political allegory, alludes to the fears and apprehensions instilled in human mind through control over resources which depend upon technology to get realized. Fear turns into a device of power, while authority exploits the vicious circle set in and maintained over time; the result being a nightmare situation for the vulnerable human subject.
  With 'The Centaur', allegory moves away from connotations underlying the first four stories within the socio-political discourse. A parable enthused with philosophical enquiry into the being of man, the tale presents a lone-surviving centaur, banished from the realms of gods and driven out to roam endlessly on Earth. The tale is charged with existential situations, talks about the horse, the man and the centaur; characters with individual selves and also a common self (or neither of the two): "Half a man. A man."
  The final story, 'Revenge' is more of an image-story, portrayed with not more than a double stroke of a narrative-brush; captivating and disturbing it is nonetheless.

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  1. Nice review. This is a curious book, one of his early efforts. It shows great promise, particularly in the 'Chair,' my favourite story.

  2. Thanks. Yes,the literary treatment of the idea of 'chair' and its collapse is something I relished. 'Embargo' is another story I liked.