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Books

book review

‘Cain’ by Jose Saramago

After a tartly promising start, Saramago’s biblical sendup loses steam

It is common enough to liken novelists creating their characters to the Genesis story of God making man. Like God, novelists scratch together a pile of dust - in their case the cloudy detritus thrown up when tattered inspiration collides with writer’s block - and attempt to blow it into life.

The Portuguese novelist José Saramago, who died last year at 87, was particularly godlike with his characters. Not only did he create them, but he interposed himself continually, sending them on outlandish though oddly sensible errands, and admonishing or encouraging them with a skeptical impatience softened by wit.

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