A “wonderfully twisted meditation on identity and individuality” from a Nobel Prize–winning author who pushes fiction to its very limits (The Boston Globe).
As this novel by the author of Blindness and All the Names begins, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a divorced, depressed history teacher. To lift his spirits, a colleague suggests he rent a certain video. Tertuliano watches the film, unimpressed. But during the night, when he is awakened by noise, he finds the VCR replaying the video and watches in astonishment as a man who looks exactly like him—or, more specifically, exactly like he did five years earlier, mustachioed and fuller in the face—appears on the screen.
Against his own better judgment, Tertuliano decides to pursue his double. As he roots out the man’s identity, what begins as a whimsical chase becomes a probing investigation into what makes us human. Can we be reduced to our outward appearance, rather than the sum of our experiences?
The inspiration for the film Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Denis Villeneuve, The Double is a timeless novel from a writer John Updike described in The New Yorker as “like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any impossibility to life by hurling words at it.”
“It’s tempting to think of [The Double] as his masterpiece.” —The New York Times
Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
The double motif, which has fascinated authors as diverse as Poe, Dostoyevski and Nabokov, is revived in this surprisingly listless novel by Portuguese master Saramago. Tertuliano M ximo Afonso is a history teacher in an unnamed metropolis (presumably Lisbon). Middle-aged, divorced and in a relationship with a woman, Maria da Paz, he is bored with life. On the suggestion of a colleague, one night M ximo watches a video that changes everything. The video itself is a forgettable comedy, but the actor who plays the minor role of hotel clerk (so minor he isn't listed in the credits) is Afonso's physical double. Soon Afonso is feverishly renting videos, trying to find the actor's name, while hiding his project from his suspicious colleague, his lover and his mother. Finally tracking the man down, he suggests a meeting. The actor, a rather sleazy fellow, resents Afonso's presence, as if his identical appearance were a sort of ontological theft. Soon the two are in a competition that involves sex and power. Narrating in his usual long, rambling sentences, Saramago suspends his characters and their actions in fussy authorial asides. Afonso has several hokey "dialogues" with "common sense"; his situation, which might be the germ for an excellent short story, is stretched out far beyond the length it deserves. This semi-allegory is certainly not one of Saramago's more noteworthy offerings.