This is not a perfect novel, but it is still extremely high-quality and very enjoyable. I’ve observed the satirical elements in some of Saramago’s other novels (Blindness, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), but never have I seen it so overt, sharp, and accurate as it is here.
In presenting a scenario in which a democratic society is undone by a sudden and inexplicable mass movement of blank votes, Saramago offers a brilliant send-up of the entire democratic political system as it exists today in the Western world. While some elements may seem foreign to North American readers (e.g., the crude tactics taken up by the security forces, the fawning corruption of the vast majority of the media), the illustration of the political thought process in general is spot-on. It can be summed up thusly: Anything goes in the name of political expediency.
Saramago´s officials desperately scramble to “fix” a process that is only broken in the sense that it threatens their own livelihoods. The newly “awakened” citizens carry on perfectly well without police or other government infrastructure, but this only further exasperates their elected officials. Saramago is too crafty to come out and explicitly enunciate this irony, but the message comes across loud and clear (and it´s downright delightful).
Saramago’s wordsmithery is also on fine display. He has an ability to say very mundane things in entirely unique and interesting ways. Frequently he seems to get too cute with this hobby of his, and the narrative can get sidetracked or occasionally tedious with his various asides. But overall the effect is funny and engaging, and you continuously come across little gems of phrases that lead you as a reader to believe that you’re in on a personal joke between you and the author. Overall a very worthwhile read, and one of my new favorites. Those interested should read Blindness first, a prior novel almost as good as this one.