A novel: All the names by José Saramago

A beautifully crafted and written tale about what it is to be human having thoughts, desires, making decisions. Through the mind of a lowly clerk – the novel takes us on a journey, or even an adventure, of the mind. Senhor José’s strange hobby: collecting media reports about celebrities, becomes a perverse fetish: the hunt for an unknown woman.

Is he the universal ‘human’, who is perverse, and ‘enjoying’ his symptom? Who seeks, but fails to find, freedom from his incompleteness and subjugation by following his desire – apparently ridiculous, irrational, inexplicable – relentlessly, never satisfied, desire followed through continually new, endless, demands and objects: to satisfy his need for knowledge of the other (described in the novel as being identical to ‘love’ of the other), to try but always fail to, I think, complete his sense of himself.

So this novel is about perversion, the unconscious, desire, lack, failing but failing better. And it appears to end on an optimistic, perhaps overly optimistic note, as his erstwhile dictatorial boss becomes his admirer and accomplice, setting him free to continue looking for love through the fantasy of the anonymous and immortal other.

However, there is a much less optimistic, darker undercurrent; he objectivises the unknown woman, even as a sex object; and her suicide, it is obliquely implied, may be a direct result of his enquiries. She ‘doesn’t want to be found’ but he pursues her relentlessly. He wants to own her it seems.

This may be a pessimistic perspective on man’s incapacity to ever truly love, with love that isn’t, at least partially, at the expense of the other.

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