If there’s one thing I learned in my years of blogging about books, it’s that there are some book that are pretty easy to describe, books that I can talk about effortlessly, and there are those that are harder to classify; books that, no matter how I try, I can’t do its plot any justice, and I can’t truly explain how I feel about it. Jose Saramago‘s The Cave is one of these books.
On the surface, The Cave is about a family of potters who, due to market forces and consumer trends, suddenly find themselves out of the job. After years of supplying the city center mall with his crockery and earthenware, Cipriano Algor is told by the establishment’s buying department that they will no longer be buying his wares, simply because customers have opted to use cheaper alternatives made from lighter materials. Cipriano Algor, having come from a long line of potters, is devastated with the news, which threatens to rob him not only of his occupation, but his primary source of income. Now, Cipriano, his daughter Marta, and her husband, Marcal, must come up with new products to make in order to survive financially.
However simple the plot sounds, The Cave is deeply philosophical, tackling issues of perceived reality versus actual reality. It also contains criticisms on modernization, commercialization, and consumerism, and touches on the loneliness of ageing and the inevitable phasing out of the traditional in favor of the new and technological.
As I’ve stated repeatedly in recent posts, I’m experiencing a sort of rekindled interest in the works of Saramago. His unique style of forgoing traditional punctuation marks in favor of run-on sentences indistinguishable from dialogue is enough for me to stay away. However, my favorable experience of his short memoir Small Memories, and novel Death with Interruptions encouraged me to explore his other works. As with Death with Interruptions, The Cave takes its sweet time getting to the point, which is almost at the very end of the novel. Majority of the novel centers on the main plot of Cipriano Algor and his life without his pottery, and an inevitable move into the big city. It is not until the very end of the novel is the real story exposed, leaving readers (me, at least) quite baffled and suddenly thrown into a state of deep philosophical reflection.
Not being a scholarly person, nor a big fan of philosophy back in college, I have to say honestly that at first I had no idea what was going on. Only after some serious assumptions (with a little help from google and wikipedia to confirm said assumptions), was I able to fully understand the message being conveyed by the author through his strange novel. Of course it’s only natural that in understanding the author’s real intentions, readers may suddenly feel very differently toward the novel and the story.
To avoid giving too much of the book away, I will end my pseudo-review here. Suffice it to say that if you are a big fan of philosophy, or of Saramago, or both, make it a point to put The Cave on your to-read list.
The Cave (2000) – Jose Saramago
Harcourt; 307 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 3/5