Audiobook Review: Cain by Jose Saramago

6 12 2011

Cain by Jose Saramago

Read by Kevin Pariseau

Audible, Inc

Length: 5 Hrs 24 Min

Genre: Literary Fiction/Biblical Satire

Quick Thoughts: In Cain, readers will find some laugh out loud moments, and a lot of fun in the early parts of the novel as Saramago gives us a new perspective on old Biblical legends, but be prepared for a major shift in tone as the main character becomes more and more disillusioned by a God he believes is, if not totally evil, at least sadistic.

Grade: B

As a child, I spent almost every Sunday morning in Sunday School.  The one thing you have to admit about the Bible, despite your religious affiliations, or level of commitment, the Bible is full of some wonderful stories. I always loved many of the Old Testament tales, Noah and the Ark, Moses and the burning bush, Joshua and the walls of Jericho, Daniel and the Lions Den, and Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. I loved these stories. They were full of brilliant visuals, death defying actions, betrayals, and rewards for faith. Presented at Sunday School land, these were sweet little morality tales. Yet, as I grew older, I began to see that the surface tales that were sugar coated for us children were full of darkness and brutality. After the walls of Jericho came down, the Israelites wiped out the residents of the town of Jericho in a manner that would be called genocide today. Joseph’s brothers attempted to kill him, all because they were jealous that there father gave him a nice jacket. Add to this the even more brutal stories, of Achan who because of his sins, was burned to death along with his entire family, of Jael who killed an opposing army’s leader by driving a tent spike through his head. Yes, the Bible is full of vicious brutality, especially in the early books. In fact, the one story that forever altered my thoughts on God was the story where God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, as a sort of test. I always found this story to be sadistic, and in no way have I ever been able to redeem the image of a God who would toy with his believer so, with the God I choose to believe in.  In Cain, Jose Saramago’s final novel, we follow the infamous Cain, cursed by God for killing his brother, in a time hopping Journey through many of these brutal moments.

In many ways, Cain is a sacrilegious journey through those Sunday School stories that you may have grown up with. I think that Saramago may have had many of the same troubles I have attempting to justify the actions of a seemingly sadistic old testament God with the "God is Love" slant of many modern churches. Saramago uses a lot of dark humor, and clever skewing of the classic biblical stories to present his look at the acts of a malevolent deity. Many of the characters of the Bible, and biblical mythology make an appearance, but maybe not quite as one would expect. I found much of the early part of the novel to be humorous, delightfully irreverent, and wickedly fun. Saramago plays around with the omniscient narrative offering explanations for how someone like Cain would have knowledge of certain idioms or why two characters would talk in a certain manner that seem incongruous to their place in history. Also, his use of Cain’s nonlinear movements through Biblical history worked well, and could be quite funny at times as Saramago plays with time travel interactions.  For much of the novel the story reminded me of Christopher Moore’s biblical satire Lamb, with its light hearted irreverent tone. Yet, as the story progresses, it became more dark and bitter. "The Lord" slowly transforms to from a deity who is a bit cold, and cruel, to almost a manically evil figure that gets off on seeing his followers tortured. Cain himself becomes less a likeable antihero, and more of a man wallowing in his bitterness towards God. The tonal shift was hard to take after the almost whimsical earlier tone of the novel. In Cain, readers will find some laugh out loud moments, and a lot of fun in the early parts of the novel as Saramago gives us a new perspective on old Biblical legends, but be prepared for a major shift in tone as the main character becomes more and more disillusioned by a God he believes is, if not totally evil, at least sadistic.

Cain is written in Saramago’s typical stylized aesthetic writing style. For fans of his style, which consists of long, seemingly endless sentences and paragraphs, without breaks for dialogue, and inconsistent use of capitalization and punctuation, you may feel like you are missing something by listening to this novel in audiobook form. Yet, people who love Saramago’s storytelling yet struggle with his stylized writing may find the audiobook version a blessing. The narrator, Kevin Pariseau reads the novel with an almost sardonic tone which fits the narrative to a tee. His reading is not particularly dynamic, but very appropriate for the text. He reads most characters in an almost bland, unaccented manor. Not that his characters came off as cardboard cut outs, they were full of life and wit, yet their basic voice seemed almost like you were listening to news broadcasters yet this actually fit well with the tone of the tale.  Any attempt to over perform this novel, probably would have done a disservice to what the author was trying to do. Because of that I give a lot of credit to Pariseau for his restrained yet sly reading of this novel. For fans of satire, who don’t mind a little sacrilegious humor, Cain could be a nice, short little diversion in your reading rhythms.

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