10 March 2010

There's No Need to Rush, We're All Just Waiting...

#15 All the Names by José Saramago

I had never heard of this book, or José Saramago for that matter, until a customer at work bought the book a couple weeks ago. I liked the cover and I thought Saramago sounded like a cool last name. (I'm a little bit shallow).

The book takes place in an unknown city somewhere in Portugal (I say this only because Saramago is Portuguese) at some point in time, probably before computers became the technological necessity that they are now. Senhor José is a clerk at the city's Central Registry, which basically holds an index card regarding every person's date of birth, death, marriage (and divorce). He's an older man who has been working at the Central Registry for 25 years or so. Given the humdrum routine of his life, Senhor José makes it interesting on his own accord. His apartment is adjoined to the Central Registry and at night he sneaks into the building to borrow the index cards of the city's famous citizens. He knows who is lying about their age and whether or not they were born into a wealthy neighborhood like they may claim. He doesn't share these secrets - it's purely to feed his own curiosity. One night, however, he mistakenly grabs the file of a regular woman and becomes obsessed with discovering her background. The novel follows his journey to discover more about this woman, as well as his refusal to take the easy route in finding her.

I found Senhor José's character admirable, even though he's not a hero. He's just on his own little mission that doesn't need to be as grand and complicated as he makes it out to be. I think he's looking for that bit of trouble or danger after all his years spent cataloguing in the Central Registry and I don't blame him for it. I loved his imagined conversations when he believed he was going to be caught in a lie. I thought that Senhor Jose's conversations with himself were my favorite, but I also liked his interactions with other people. It showed that he wasn't some weirdo eccentric, but that he was just a normal, albeit very clever, man. He's no longer satisfied by only knowing a person's date of birth, marriage (divorce) and death. There's far more to a person than just a couple of dates and Senhor José wants to know about it. Everyone has a backstory and the woman's holds a bit of intrigue.

The book is simple. There isn't a twist at the end nor does Senhor José enter a web of deceit that puts his life in extreme danger. His work is affected by his obsession and he does become paranoid, but it's all his own doing. I'll admit that it took me a little while to get into the book. I think it was when I finally realized that I had to appreciate the book for its nuances and beautiful writing style instead of constantly being on the alert for a big climatic scene. I liked this book, but I'll probably need to read it again in order to properly appreciate Saramago's writing. I started the book without much background information, I just knew about the Central Registry and that the book won the Nobel in 2003 (so of course it had to be good, right?).

01 March 2010

You Can Fly! You Can Fly!

#14 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

In college I took a class on the origins of fairy tales. Did you know that the Little Mermaid dies and turns into sea foam in the original Hans Christian Andersen story, or that Sleeping Beauty was impregnated while in her deep sleep because Prince Philip couldn't wait to wake her? Peter Pan isn't a classic fairy tale, but it is another reminder of Disney's ability to take a story with disturbing elements and make it child friendly. I haven't seen the Disney version for quite some time, but I don't remember ever being scared or worried while watching it.

Barrie's novel isn't necessarily "scary," but it's a book for children, and I don't think stories about cutting off a pirate's arm are appropriate for young readers. It has both a whimsical and dark tone to it. The characters are violent. The group of lost boys is constantly changing because they die in Neverland. Tinker Bell hates Wendy and tries to kill her. I was half expecting the little fairy to bare her fangs at some point because she had few redeeming qualities. The violence between the Lost Boys, Hook and his pirate gang and the rest of the groups on Neverland isn't typical children's Power Ranger violence. It's not a punch and the bad guy is unconscious; it's more of a stab with a sword and he's dead. Even though Peter is the book's protagonist, he's not a likable character. He's selfish and arrogant, but then again he's just a little boy.

The idea of Neverland is disheartening once you see how everyone but Peter Pan grows old and matures. There's nothing sweet to it. I wanted to cry for Peter and his inability/stubbornness to grow up, yet I could relate. Wouldn't it be nice if we never had to worry about school, finding a job or complicated relationships? But wouldn't it also be horrible to never mature and experience adult things?

I don't think I was touched by the book until the last couple of chapters where we see how Wendy has aged and Peter has remained a boy. Because he'll never grow up, he has no sense of time and fails to realize that other people will get older and move on with their lives. Even though it's Peter's choice to stay a child, I still became sad knowing that he got left behind. It doesn't phase him, but it phased me and I pitied his naivety.