Death With Interruptions
by José Saramago
(Harcourt, $24)

José Saramago’s slim new novel is a surprisingly original satire, said Laura Miller in Taking up a popular movie premise, the 85-year-old Nobel laureate lets “death take a holiday” as a mortal and fall in love. Because Saramago is mostly interested in the absurdities of our social institutions, the first half of the book is “a droll, extended, and highly enjoyable speculation on the chaos” that might ensue if a sabbatical from mortality were suddenly granted to an entire nation. It’s amusing to watch church and business leaders panic once the ailing and the maimed stop crossing into the netherworld, said D.T. Max in The New York Times. But there can be an “airlessness” to Saramago’s long, wandering sentences, and he often seems “too tired” to pursue his thought experiment to a fresh insight. Perhaps so, said James Wood in The New Yorker. But this “toothy” book becomes “increasingly affecting” when we finally learn that death in the book’s unnamed corner of the world has taken the form of a female functionary with a soft spot for a 50-year-old cellist. It turns out we need death to give meaning to life.