Your saved articles can be found here. Join now to start saving articles today. It's also a country without capital letters. One day, people suddenly stop dying. Old people's homes fill up, an actuarial calculus predicts chaos, the "maphia" transports desperately ill people across the border so that they can expire naturally.

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Reality shifts and slides: peninsulas break off from Europe and float away across the Atlantic; entire nations lose their sight and then, in a later novel, gain it back again. The Nobel Laureate deals with human problems by turning them round in a fantastical light.

Here he is on familiar and sparkling ground once more, in a work that meditates on what is perhaps the greatest challenge that mankind faces. Saramago delights in the complexities of administrative wrangles: every move has a counter-move, every step forward is a step back.

When it is discovered that people in other countries are still dying, families start taking their nearly-dead across the borders, whereupon they die immediately: does this count as murder? If it does, which country can prosecute? Should the government condone this, when it is well known that the maphia is helping to cart the nearly-dead across? The novel takes a different tack half way through, just as it seems that stasis has been reached.

Saramago here plays an unexpected and very funny joke. This of course is exactly how Saramago writes. In the novel, death takes exception and threatens to kill the sub-editor; one wonders if Saramago is fulfilling some long-hidden fantasy. The one failing in the novel is death herself for it is a she. The book is an extended riff, a joyous, burbling, warm satire on human frailty, shot through with veins of dark humour, and despite the fact that the latter half fails to convince as much as the riotous first half, is a thing of wonder and beauty, delighting in the instability of language and human and inhuman nature.

British theatre is thriving with new ideas and voices — and we have more diverse commissioning and casting to thank for it. We are supported by our members. Want to get our magazine? Subscribe now. As in many of his books, we are in an unnamed country. Those who are about to die, who should die, instead exist in a permanent half-life, causing untold problems to the citizenship.

Death at Intervals is published by Harvill Secker. Take the power back British theatre is thriving with new ideas and voices — and we have more diverse commissioning and casting to thank for it. Read more. If you value reason find out how to join us today.

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Death at Intervals by Jose Saramago

In an unnamed country, on the first day of the New Year, people stop dying. There is great celebration and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Soon, though, the residents begin to suffer. Undertakers face bankruptcy, the church is forced to reinvent its doctrine, and local 'maphia' smuggle those on the brink of death over the border where they can expire naturally.


Death at Intervals

Blindness examines the consequences of a plague that suddenly deprived almost an entire population of sight. Perhaps his greatest novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, takes a simple twist - Jesus was the son of Joseph, not God - to explore matters of belief, duty and sin. His latest fiction to be translated into English is no different. Death at Intervals begins with a striking conceit: one day, without warning, people stop dying. As with Kafka's Metamorphosis, the series of events is perfectly believable once the initial impossibility has occurred: complaints to the government from funeral directors reduced to burying pets or the insurance union's decision that life assurance policies have an year term.

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