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It Could Have Been and Should Have Been So Beautiful,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Tale of the Unknown Island (Gebundene Ausgabe)
Jose Saramago's book, The Tale of the Unknown Island is a little book that presents a little story. Both a love story and a fable, The Tale of the Unknown Island presents an elegant and exquisite premise that is disappointingly flawed in its execution.
The book begins beguilingly enough, when a man with a quest knocks at the door of a king and begs for a boat to make an expedition to an unknown island. The king is not immediately agreeable but our hero finds an unlikely ally in the king's cleaning woman and, after receiving the ship he has asked for, he and the woman join forces.
There is one problem. There are no unknown islands. All that exist have already been mapped and claimed by the king. When the harbormaster attempts to dissuade the man from his dream, and no one signs on board as crew members, the hero of this little tale finds that only the cleaning woman will help him pursue his seemingly impossible dream.
The island is discovered, but unfortunately, the journey taken is literally one of which the stuff of dreams are made. REM sleep and narcoleptic love play a big part in this story. It is here, in the land of dreams, where the story really falls apart and our suspension of disbelief grows harder and harder to suspend.
Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, is the author of breathtakingly beautiful books such as Baltasar and Blimunda and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and works of stunning originality like Blindness, so I expected far more from The Tale of the Unknown Island. Perhaps these high expectations were a part of the problem.
The book is written in Saramago's signature style: a breathless, barely punctuated, almost stream-of-consciousness manner that is, as always, flawless, and that captures the innocence and high spirits of the protagonist perfectly. The metaphors created, however, are highly overstated and, at times, highly irritating.
Thematically, The Tale of the Unknown Island should have worked so beautifully. There is a lazy and wicked antagonist in the guise of the king, there is the pure and innocent hero, there is the classic quest necessary for the hero to prove himself and become whole and there is the requisite healing power of true love. The key to the ending is faith and the key to that faith is love.
With all of the required elements of fairy tales and fables, why, then did this book fail to hit the mark?
Fairy tales and fables are, by their very nature, simple little tales. The Tale of the Unknown Island is quite complex but told in a simplified manner. And, as we all know, "simplified" does not quite equal the beauty inherent in "simple." Saramago's abrupt switch from satire to allegory was jarring, to say the least, and definitely detracted from the book's could-have-been charms.
The gemlike playfulness and grace embodied in a tale such as The Princess Bride or The Last Unicorn is sorely lacking in The Tale of the Unknown Island.
The illustrated edition, however, is still well worth the time and money. Peter Sis' drawings, composed of clean lines and classical beauty have a fey air of antiquity about them and achieve all that the story set out to do but did not.
Saramago is a world class writer. That cannot be denied. The fact that The Tale of the Unknown Island failed to make the grade is a flaw as tiny and insignificant as is the book itself.