#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?).