The Cave

If there’s one thing I learned from my years of blogging about books, it’s that there are some books that are pretty easy to describe, books that I can talk about effortlessly, and books that are hard 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, owing 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 cheap alternatives made from light 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 also his primary source of income. Now, Cipriano; his daughter, Marta; and her husband, Marcal, must come up with new products to make 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 aging 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 to the big city.  It is not until the very end of the novel that the real story is 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

10 thoughts on “The Cave

  1. I’ve yet to read any of his books, do they always have a philosophical element to them – do I need to have my idiots guide to philosophy by my side as I read?

    • Well I’ve only read is this and Death with Interruptions, which I liked more. I think Death with Interruptions also deals with the philosophy of life and death, but it’s not as philosophical as The Cave.

      I don’t know if all his books are philosophical, but I have a feeling they are in some level.

      You may be more versed in philosophy than I am, so maybe you’re ok. Not to give any spoilers but I think to know more about the topic, you’d have to do a bit of research online (that is if you are not already familiar with the concept). Sorry, it’s hard to explain without giving it away!

  2. this is one of his better books. very simple, yet its messages are vast. i lost count of the themes he tackled on this one, and i simply read it as a beautiful story (i wanted to name one of my dogs Found). Have you read Blindness? It is perhaps his iconic novel, and arguably one of his best.

    • I tried reading Blindness before, but stopped because that was when I still wasn’t used to his writing style. I liked The Cave, but I liked Death with Interruptions better. Have you read that one?

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