While working my volunteer job at the library's book store, I was picking up some books. Twenty five cents each for paperbacks, or 5 for $1. Needing to get one more, I picked up this book by Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago.
The author, Mr. Saramago, wrote the book with no chapter numbers, no heading, no quotations when people were talking. When two characters are having a conversation, the only way you knew someone else was talking was the commas in the run-on sentences. It was a bit distracting, but it also gave me a sense of urgency in the reading. People love Mr. Saramago's prose. This is my first time reading him, and I was a little overwhelmed with all the descriptions of every minute detail of everything around the main character, Senhor Jose. It felt like too much. (Maybe because I am reading a translation; I think it was written in Portuguese.)
"All The Names" is set in an unknown town in an unknown time (possibly the 1950's, I'm not sure) where the protagonist, Senhor Jose lives. Sr. Jose is a 50 year old low-grade clerk in the Central Registry, the government agency that records "all the names" of those who have been born, get married/divorced and die. All work performed with cards, inkwells and pens, all by hand, the Central Registry is an archaic bastion of documentation; very strict, very precise; no one...no one breaks rank or rules. Except Sr. Jose. He is bored, lonely and slightly insane.
He quietly collects random facts of famous people on his off time; newspaper clipping, notes, articles, etc. One day, deciding to break into the Central Registry to borrow the files of these famous people, Senhor Jose accidentally picks up the card of a random woman; someone he doesn't know, who is not famous. Just a nobody. This slip leads his mind to want to follow a path to find out who this woman is. Senhor Jose breaks rules, lies to people to get information, breaks in places, imagines horrible fates, has panic attacks, talks to the ceiling (that talks back to him) and leads the reader on an odd journey through his mind and actions.
Jose's a nutter. A sweet one, but a nut nonetheless. He's lonely. His life has no purpose. He wants this because he wants to have something in his life of meaning. He wants a connection with someone, even if it's this unknown woman on paper. Can we blame him this craving? He wants to know her, because he wants her to feel she is known, just as he wishes he were known by someone, anyone, on a personal level.