Verso £12.99

The Notebook, By José Saramago

The Nobel laureate's blog entries burn with passion

The novels of the Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago are things of intricate beauty and complex truth. Masterpieces such as Blindness and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis are labyrinths in which the reader wanders, wonders, and sometimes gets lost. In the middle of his unpunctuated trademark epiphanies, you don't always know which character is talking, and the perspective often switches suddenly from first to third person.

In The Notebook, however, Saramago abjures his elaborate ambiguous art for political analysis written in a style "as clear as water" and a tone of savage indignation. Originally penned three or four times a week for his blog, these short, dated, written-to-the-moment entries chronicle the period from September 2008 to August 2009. It is a history written in blood – Guantánamo, the "senseless acts and crimes perpetuated by Israel" against Palestine, natural disasters in which only the poor seem to suffer, massacres in Chiapas, the "crime against humanity" of the tax-payer-funded bank bailouts... Saramago casts a cold, penetrating eye over it all, though there are times when he flinches at the horror.

Saramago aims to cut through the web of "organized lies" surrounding humanity, and to convince readers by delivering his opinions in a relentless series of unadorned, knock-down prose blows. Having spent his formative years under Salazar's fascist regime, Saramago might be said to have received the perfect training for identifying and lambasting political mendacity. He derides George Bush as the "cowboy who inherited the world" and mistook it "for a herd of cattle"; the philistine who "expelled truth" from political discourse. Berlusconi, meanwhile, is a disingenuous mafioso, a "disease" in Italy's noble blood.

Yet the rot goes much deeper than politics. According to this staunch Marxist, it is the free market that "conditions governments to bring people within its control". Its neo-liberal ideology has permeated everything: our language, our emotions, our thoughts. Universities now obsequiously do its bidding – instead of shaping a cultured, politically-engaged citizenship, they manufacture worker bees focused exclusively on gratifying their self-interest. "Ignorance is expanding in a truly terrifying manner," Saramago thunders, "we are reaching the end of a civilization."

So far, so very depressing. (It becomes even more so when you think that Saramago is now 87; when he lays down his pen who will replace him?) And yet some hope remains, for, as the saying goes, "where there is power, there is also resistance". Saramago believes that the denuded political landscape may be regenerated by the current recession; surely, he argues, the Humpty Dumpty of world capitalism can't simply be put back together again. The crisis will, at the very least, he thinks, inspire people to read books once more; to ask political and philosophical questions; to protest; to intervene.

A number of reflections on art and literature, along with some travelogue pieces, interleave the bulletins of "news that burns". While these entries are more meditative and subtle, they generally echo, rather than muffle, the strident political commentary. The Notebook will doubtless disappoint Saramago fans who regard him as a sort of Portuguese Borges – aloof, erudite, aesthetic. It will be welcomed, however, by readers who see an intimate (although not necessarily straightforward) relationship between literature and politics. Saramago's trenchant blogging in no way resembles his capacious fiction, yet his novels affirm cultural, aesthetic and moral values utterly at odds with the neo-liberal ethos denounced in The Notebook.

This book is not without blemishes. The abbreviated blog form encourages arguments that are sometimes simplistic, and epigrams that are often elliptical (at least in translation). There are also inevitable repetitions across this anthology. Yet these faults hardly matter: The Notebook is a cogent, stimulating and timely book.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...