Blog post

And so we have vampire squids: Michael Thomsen on José Saramago and political allegory

Molly Osberg10 September 2012

With the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street's initial encampment in downtown Manhattan drawing closer, Michael Thomsen reviews José Saramago's story collection The Lives of Things, mapping the ways in which it demonstrates the political power of allegory. Gaining philosophical strength from the author's graceful "metaphysical inspection" of dire material premises, Thomsen commends Saramango for revealing "the parallel fragility of authority and idealism" through both his plot lines and his stylistic inclinations:

The Lives of Things shows Saramago's sense of language in full bloom, with winding sentences that interrupt themselves again and again, subdividing a simple statement with qualifiers and tangents that make any notion of "truth" seem like a trick of perspective.

Though clearly shaded by a (perhaps familiar) sense of hopelessness—Thomsen writes of "doomsday scenarios, broken balance sheets, and government debt"—the review alludes to the idea that in Saramago's poetic, winding parallel worlds we find novel ways to frame our own struggles. The stories have a "renewed vibrancy" in our time:

They remind us that when the law fails, a good metaphor can take its place. And so we have vampire squids, hooded sweatshirts worn in solidarity, tents propped up on sticks because the police say they can't be placed on the ground.

Visit Bookforum to read the review in full.