Blindness by José Saramago

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Blindness
The difficult thing isn't living with other people, it's understanding them.

I need to read more of José Saramago's books, so that I never forget what a brilliant writer he is. His writing always leaves me in awe. How can someone write in such a non-conversational style and still produce a masterpiece? Blindness is the second book I am reading by this author and it reminded me instantly why I loved his The Elephant Journey.

In Blindness, an epidemic is brewing. A man is struck blind when he crosses an intersection, but nobody believes him. But very soon, almost everyone who comes in contact with him are falling blind too - the man who takes him to his house and also steals his car, the wife of the first blind man, the doctor who examined him, all the patients who were in the doctor's clinic when the first blind man arrived, the policeman who interacts with the car thief, and so on. The doctor first figures out that an epidemic is happening and alerts the authorities. The government in return houses all the blind people and everyone suspected to have come in contact with the blind people, in an unused mental hospital, in separate wings. How these people thrive in such a world is the focus of this book.

If you are not familiar with Saramago, then you will be very surprised by his writing. His is not what I consider an approachable style, because if you read a paragraph or two to gauge your interest, you are most likely going to abandon it. Blindness has no quotation marks or "he said" / "she said" to indicate conversation, nor is there any overuse (or even normal use) of punctuation marks that lend a book visual clarity of organization. Instead, Saramago depends entirely on language to tell his story. There are paragraphs that are longer than a page or two. A whole paragraph can be part of a dialogue and abruptly someone else would start speaking. You have to be submerged in the story to follow who is saying what. For these reasons, audiobook versions of this book may not work, nor will distracted reading. That is not to say that his books are difficult to read or follow. Once you get past a few paragraphs, Saramago will suck you into his prose with such ease that you will probably wonder what took you so long to read his book. Honestly, that happened to me both times I read his works.

In Blindness, he has created a very interesting situation. How will blind people live in a world they have only known through their eyes? There is a saying that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is the king. In Blindness, there is no one-eyed man. There is a woman who is living in the hospital with her husband and hasn't yet lost her eyesight. However, nobody else knows this so she can't rule this land of the blind. There is also another man who has been blind for years and knows his way around very well. But he is still a blind person. What makes Blindness so brilliant is that this isn't just a story of how one blind person is dealing with his new condition but rather, a world where everyone is now trying to do things like use the bathroom, find food, and look after loved ones. Outside the mental hospital, everyone has abandoned their homes and instead travel together daily when looking for food, because once a person leaves a place, there is probably no finding that place again. Besides, how do you know if something is food or poison?

Blindness doesn't name any of its characters. They are all called the first blind man, the wife of the first blind man, the doctor, the thief, the old man with the eye patch, the little boy, the old woman, and so on. There is also no mention of where this epidemic is unfolding. It could be the author's native Portugal, but it could also be the United States. There is nothing in the characters's mannerisms that seem to indicate their culture. This makes the book more powerful because any reader can easily identify with the characters and the setting. What's ironic is how visual this book is, despite filled with characters who cannot see! The deaths, the suspense, and the rapes are all very descriptive.

Blindness talks about a dystopian world but doesn't glory in the world it creates. Rather it focuses on the people and their actions in this world. I felt as forlorn as the characters did when yet another day goes by without escape from this illness. The government tries to stay on top of things but very soon, everyone is blind. A lot of the world is seen through the one person who is still to lose her sight. But in this new world, sight has no meaning. There is no more use for eyes, since there is no one else to see the world with you.


I borrowed this books from the good old library.
Armchair reading in maybe Portugal

8 comments:

Diane D said...

`I rarely read a book twice, but this one was an exception - very different. I also liked the movie.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

This is one of my all time favourite books! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it too. I agree that it is amazing that he can create such a powerful book using such a strange writing style. Unlike Diane I didn't enjoy the movie. I also didn't like the sequel, but all his other books have been fantastic - especially The Double. I hope you enjoy reading his others :-)

JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said...

Saramago has been on my "should read" list for years, but this book in particular has intimidated me. Your excellent review makes me think the time has finally come.

ebookclassics said...

I read this book a few years back and the story has haunted me ever since. I especially get obsessed trying to imagine myself coping in that kind of situation. Have you watched the movie?

Ti Reed said...

When this book first hit the shelves, I picked it up, read a few chapters and put it down. It was way before my dystopia obsession took hold and way before I was a blogger. I think at the time, I was more into instant gratification books and didn't want to think too much about what I was reading. I find it hard to believe now, that I ever put it down!

literaryfeline said...

I have been curious about this book for awhile, but feel a bit intimidated by it at the same time. It sounds like it gives you a lot to think about.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I am scrunching the hell out of my face right now. I have been interested in this book, and I still am sort of, but GOD how I hate it when writers don't use proper punctuation. Why do we have punctuation if we are not going to use it? Lovely, lovely punctuation. I love it so.

TNBBC said...

Long time fan of Saramago here. Don't let the lack of punctuation scare you away. His writing is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking and mesmerizing. Love the review! And I'd highly recommend picking up THE CAVE and DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS next. Both favorites of mine!