The Double by Jose Saramago


  • Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered —The Book of Contraries
  • I believe in my conscience I intercept many a thought which heaven intended for another man. —LAURENCE STERNE, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
  • Although, sooner or later, we will all, inevitably, be confronted by one of those hearty types to whom human frailty, especially in its most refined and delicate forms, is the cause of mocking laughter, the truth is that the inarticulate sounds which, quite against our wishes, occasionally emerge from our own mouth, are merely the irrepressible moans from some ancient pain or sorrow, like a scar suddenly making its forgotten presence felt again.
  • Sitting now on the bus that will drop him near the building where he has lived for the last six or so years, that is, ever since his divorce, Máximo Afonso, and we use the shortened version of his name here, having been, in our view, authorized to do so by its sole lord and master, but mainly because the word Tertuliano, having appeared so recently, only six lines previously, could do a grave disservice to the fluency of the narrative, anyway, as we were saying, Máximo Afonso found himself wondering, suddenly intrigued, suddenly perplexed, what strange motives, what particular reasons had led his colleague from the Mathematics Department, we forgot to mention that his colleague teaches mathematics, to urge him so insistently to see the film he has just rented,
  • Don’t forget that what we call reality today was mere imagination yesterday, just look at Jules Verne.
  • He took three different cans out of the cupboard and, not knowing how else to choose, decided to leave the matter to chance, and resorted to a nonsensical, almost forgotten rhyme from childhood, which, in those days, had usually got him the result he least wanted, and it went like this, Eenie, meenie, minie, mo, catch a tiger by his toe, if he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie, minie, mo. The winner was a meat stew, which wasn’t what he most fancied, but he felt it best not to go against fate.double
  • It was, above all, absurd, ridiculous, a cinematic monster in which logic and common sense had been left protesting on the other side of the door, having been refused entry into the place where the madness was being perpetrated.
  • This was how he knew that the world would not end today, for it would be an unforgivable waste to make the sun rise in vain.
  • Take the video back to the shop today, that way you can draw a line under the whole business and put an end to the mystery before it begins to bring out things you would rather not know or see or do, besides, if there is another person who is a copy of you, or of whom you are the copy, as apparently there is, you’re under no obligation to go looking for him, he exists and you knew nothing about him, you exist and he knows nothing about you, you’ve never seen each other, you’ve never passed in the street, the best thing you can do is, But what if one day I do meet him, what if I do pass him in the street, Tertuliano Máximo Afonso broke in, You just look the other way, as if to say, I haven’t seen you and I don’t know you, And what if he speaks to me, If he has even a grain of good sense, he’ll do exactly the same, You can’t expect everyone to be sensible, That’s why the world’s in the state it is, You didn’t answer my question, Which one, What do I do if he speaks to me, You say, well, what an extraordinary, fantastic, strange coincidence, whatever seems appropriate, but emphasizing that it is just a coincidence, then you walk away, Just like that, Just like that, That would be rude, ill-mannered, Sometimes that’s all you can do if you want to avoid the worst, if you don’t, you know what will happen, one word will lead to another, after that first meeting there’ll be a second and a third, and in no time at all, “you’ll be telling your life story to a complete stranger, and you’ve been around long enough to have learned that you can’t be too careful with strangers when it comes to personal matters, and frankly, I can’t imagine anything more personal, or more intimate, than the mess you seem about to step into, It’s hard to think of someone identical to me as a stranger, Just let him continue to be what he has been up until now, someone you don’t know, Yes, but he’ll never be a stranger, We’re all strangers, even us, Who do you mean, You and me, your common sense and you, we hardly ever meet to talk, only very occasionally, and, to be perfectly honest, it’s hardly ever been worthwhile, That’s my fault I suppose, No, it’s my fault too, we are obliged by our nature and our condition to follow parallel roads, but the distance that separates or divides us is so great that mostly we don’t hear each other, Yes, but I can hear you now, It was an emergency and emergencies bring people together, What will be, will be, Oh, I know that philosophy, it’s what people call predestination, fatalism, fate, but what it really means is that, as usual, you’ll do whatever you choose to do, It means that I’ll do what I have to do, neither more nor less, For some people what they did is the same as what they thought they would have to do, Contrary to what you, common sense, may think, the things of the will are never simple, indecision, uncertainty, irresolution are simple, Who would have thought it, Don’t be so surprised, there are always new things to learn, Well, my mission is at an end, you’re obviously going to do exactly what you like, Precisely, Good-bye, then, see you next time, take care, See you at the next emergency, If I manage to get there in time.
  • The eloquent silence, long favored by a particularly lazy kind of literature, does not exist, eloquent silences are just words that have got stuck in the throat, choked words that have been unable to escape the embrace of the glottis.
  • Someone once said that all the great truths are basically trivial and so we have to find new ways, preferably paradoxical ways, of expressing them, in order to keep them from falling into oblivion.
  • We all know, however, that the enormous weight of tradition, habit, and custom that occupies the greater part of our brain bears down pitilessly on the more brilliant and innovative ideas of which the remaining part is capable, and although it is true that, in some cases, this weight can balance the excesses and extravagances of the imagination that would lead us God knows where were they given free rein, it is equally true that it often has a way of subtly submitting what we believed to be our free will to unconscious tropisms, like a plant that does not know why it will always have to lean toward the side from which the light comes.
  • We have an odd relationship with words. We learn a few when we are small, throughout our lives we collect others through education, conversation, our contact with books, and yet, in comparison, there are only a tiny number about whose meaning, sense, and denotation we would have absolutely no doubts if, one day, we were to ask ourselves seriously what they meant. Thus we affirm and deny, thus we convince and are convinced, thus we argue, deduce, and conclude, wandering fearlessly over the surface of concepts about which we have only the vaguest of ideas, and, despite the false air of confidence that we generally affect as we feel our way along the road in the verbal darkness, we manage, more or less, to understand each other and even, sometimes, to find each other.
  • Like nature, they say, a narrative abhors a vacuum, which is why, since Tertuliano Máximo Afonso has, in this interval, done nothing worth telling, we had no option but to improvise some padding to more or less fill up the time required by the situation. Now that he has decided to take the video out of its box and put it in the VCR, we can relax.
  • I’m not going to kill myself over this, he thought, the world won’t end if I don’t manage to watch all the videos this weekend, and if it did end, this wouldn’t be the only mystery left unresolved.
  • How can we explain what happened, we pile up words, words, and more words, the very words we talked about elsewhere, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, and, however we try, however hard we struggle, we always find ourselves outside the feelings we so ingenuously hoped to describe.
  • There are times when it is a thousand times better to do less than to do more, to hand the matter over to sensibility, which will know better than rational intelligence how best to proceed toward the full perfection of the following moments, if, that is, they were born to reach such heights. They slowly separated, she smiled a little, he smiled a little, but we know that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso has another idea in his head, which is to remove from Maria da Paz’s eyes, as quickly as possible, the telltale papers, which is why we need not be surprised by the way he almost propels her toward the kitchen, Go on, then, you make the coffee while I try to bring some order to this chaos, and then the unexpected happened, for, as if giving no particular importance to the words emerging from her mouth or as if she did not entirely understand them, she murmured, Chaos is merely order waiting.
  • The question, the painful and eternal question, is how long will this last, will this really mean a rekindling of an affection that will have occasionally been confused with love, with passion even, or do we merely find ourselves once more before the familiar phenomenon of the candle that, as it goes out, burns with a higher and unbearably brighter flame, unbearable only because it is the last, not because it is rejected by our eyes, which would happily remain absorbed in looking.
  • The balance of human lives is constantly swinging back and forth between what is gained and what is lost, the problem lies in the equally human impossibility of coming to an agreement on the relative merits of what should be lost and what should be gained, which is why the world is in the state it’s in.
  • There are times when it is best to be content with what one has, so as not to lose everything.
  • Being a man should never be an impediment to behaving like a gentleman.
  • My feeling is that you’ve set in motion a great crushing machine that is slowly advancing toward you, warned common sense, but since his companion did not reply, he withdrew, shaking his head, saddened by the outcome of the conversation.
  • Life, my dear Máximo, has taught me that nothing is simple, it just seems simple sometimes, and it’s always when it looks simplest that we should most doubt it, You’re being very skeptical, As far as I know, no one is born skeptical, Anyway, if you’re in agreement, I’ll write the letter in your name, Presumably I’ll have to sign it, That won’t be necessary, I’ll invent a signature myself, At least make it look a bit like mine, Well, I never was much good at copying other people’s handwriting, but I’ll do my best, Be careful, watch yourself, once a person starts falsifying things there’s no telling where it will end, Falsify isn’t quite the right word, you probably mean forge, Thank you for the correction, my dear Máximo, but what I was trying to do was find one word that meant both things.
  • Tertuliano Máximo Afonso’s mother, whose name, Carolina, surname Máximo, finally appears here, is a fervent and assiduous reader of novels. As such, she knows all about telephones that ring unexpectedly and of others that ring when you are desperately hoping they will.
  • Real life has always seemed to us more frugal in coincidences than the novel or other forms of fiction, unless we were to allow that the principle of coincidence is the one true ruler of the world, in which case, we should give as much value to the coincidence one actually experiences as to that which is written about, and vice versa.
  • Coincidences are fine as long as they respect the minimum degree of probability demanded by common sense.
  • There are plenty of reasons to think that the more we try to drive our imaginations away, the more they will amuse themselves by seeking out and attacking those points in our armor that, consciously or unconsciously, we left unprotected.
  • People’s lives could also be told from front to back, one could wait until they ended and then, gradually, follow the stream back to the source, identifying the tributaries on the way and sailing up them too, aware that each one, even the smallest and feeblest, was, in its time and in itself, a major river, and in this slow, deliberate way, alert to every scintillation on the surface of the water, every bubble risen from the bottom, every sudden downward flurry, every stagnant stillness, reach the end of the narrative and place after the first of all moments the final full stop, and to take the same amount of time that the lives thus told had actually lasted.
  • She said she would wait as long as she had to, that the conversation they had had in the car after supper the other night, when he had admitted that he had lied, had been like a door opening only to close again at once, but that at least she had found out that the thing separating them was only a door and not a wall. He said nothing, merely nodded and thought to himself that worse than any wall is a door to which one has never had the key, a key he didn’t know where to find, or even if it existed.
  • As the ancients taught, never say, Of this water I will not drink, especially, we would add, if you have no other water.
  • Tertuliano Máximo Afonso might not perhaps mind becoming a tree, but he will never be one, his life, like that of all humans who have lived and will live, will never know the supreme experience of the vegetal. Supreme, or so we imagine, since, up until now, no one has read the biography or the memoirs of an oak tree, written by the same.
  • He is not going to continue work on the proposal for the ministry, he is, like a good son, going to telephone his mother. He will ask how she’s been, she’ll say fine, how are you, oh, much as usual, no complaints, I was beginning to wonder why you hadn’t phoned, sorry, but I’ve had a lot to do, in human beings these words are presumably the equivalent of the rapid touches of recognition that ants give to each other with their antennae when they meet on a path, as if they were saying “You’re one of us, now we can talk about serious matters.
  • Enemies are born not out of our will to have them but out of their irresistible desire to have us.
  • Some people are like that, people whose overly acute sense of responsibility keeps them in a state of permanent unrest, as if, at every moment, they were not doing their duty and were being accused of just that.
  • He had gone into Tertuliano Máximo Afonso’s bedroom, seen the open suitcase on the bed, and had been a dog for long enough to know what this meant, which is why he did not lie down at the feet of his mistress, who never goes away, but at the feet of this other person who is about to leave.
  • …pulled on his dressing gown over his pajamas, and was dialing her number. Maria da Paz asked, Is that you, and he replied, Yes, it’s me, I was thirsty and I’ve come to ask for a glass of water.”
  • He put them in the sink, held a lighted match to them, and observed the swift work of the fire, the flame chewing and swallowing the papers, then vomiting them up in the form of ash, the rapid scintillations that kept nibbling at them even when the flame, still rising up here and there, appeared to have gone out.
  • The Rubicon is this door that is closing, these stairs he is going down, these footsteps leading to that car, this key opening the door, this engine carrying it smoothly out into the street, the die is cast, it’s in the hands of the gods.
  • It’s true, in time everything does pass, but there are cases when time takes time to let the grief abate, and there have been and will be cases, fortunately few, in which the grief never abated and time did not pass.

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