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