This is a review of The Stone Raft by José Saramago that begins with the preceding perfunctory statement of a categorical fact that would become quickly obvious even without the help of the title, followed by a critical clause which offers a less obvious foreshadowing of the word-effacing, grammar-conscious language Saramago employs.
I can’t say I was surprised that a novel about political and geographical dislocation and alienation didn’t pull me in. The plot was gripping, and it’s not like the book has no plot, it just a book where the plot is not only not really the point but really is unimportant at all points. More fairly, Saramago didn’t offer the sort of commentary on meaning I expected. Maybe my research into his political views spoiled my perspective, but there’s a reason I researched them, so it’s not clear which caused which or if one can be labelled “cause” and the other “effect,” and it may be the case that their causation and action are not interested in arriving at each in sequence or drawing paths whose salient characteristics are found at those points, a dynamic situation that indicates the sort of world you live in while reading Saramago.
Usually I read novels for what they do with my emotions, or I discover myself reading them for that purpose. Such was the case of East of Eden and I Am Charlotte Simmons (novels about which I have decidedly different opinions, just to throw that in your face and then comment on it in a way decidedly less insightful than Saramago’s). I had emotional, yet flat feelings regarding the main characters in this book, so after I finished my opinion was a little iffy, and I decided to withhold it until I read one of his even more highly reviewed books.
Now I realize that I experienced new emotions regarding language, which changed during my reading, and I notice that while the story about the people doesn’t really change, the religious and political commentary is a vanilla canvas for a developing story about the words the canvas is made of. (It’s different than Faulkner. When I read my first Faulkner novel, Light in August, which I read after The Unvanquished and two short stories, I had to deal with the language, but once I did that it wasn’t about the language anymore, because his stories are really about the characters, or the culture or something like that.) How The Stone Raft developed on this front was a subtly I missed on a conscious level because I wasn’t openminded enough. But this failure and the profuse comma splices did not inhibit me from appreciating it, a book read and enjoyed is a book read and enjoyed.
I finished this novel on May 9, 2012. It was leisure reading. I recommend it.