Wednesday, September 19, 2007
48. Blindness - Jose Saramago

Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.

Blindness was a recommendation (and loner) from fellow Fall Reading participant, Barbara. I had never heard of it but thought I’d give it a go as the premise sounded interesting. In an unnamed city, in an unnamed country, people are suddenly, inexplicably, going blind. The afflicted are rounded up and placed in an abandoned mental hospital in the mistaken hope that it will control the spread of this epidemic. As the newly blind inmates struggle to survive, their world within the hospital’s walls and the one beyond their reach rapidly deteriorates. Saying anymore would give too much away.

As Coyote mentioned in her recent post about A Million Little Pieces, Saramago, like Frey, seems to have forgotten punctuation. Unlike Frey’s book though, Blindness works well despite the lack of semicolons, colons, hyphens and quotations. Or perhaps it’s because of his odd writing style that the book has an even greater impact. As one reviewer wrote, the combination of the disjointed writing structure and the lack of names to identify the players in this story gives the reader a claustrophobic feeling as they turn the pages: “You never quite feel you can see what's going on, you feel that your viewpoint is constrained - in fact, you feel partially blind.” You can also find another great review HERE but be warned that there are spoilers on both.

Blindness is not for the easily squeamish. As their mini-society degenerates further and further towards anarchy, Saramago is not afraid to place the reader in the middle of it. However, by chosing to not provide us with a detailed description of the horrific events it reinforces the feeling of the reader’s own blindness. And isn’t that what’s even more terrifying? That which you can’t see? While reading this, thoughts of POW and internment camps, and recent examples of “ethnic cleansing” kept creeping into my head. I’m not sure if that’s a completely accurate comparison but it’s what first came to my mind and the thoughts wouldn’t leave.

Giant kudos to Barbara for a fantastic recommendation and I heartily recommend it. There is so much going on so many different levels that it’s impossible to delve into each and every theme running through Saramago’s novel. If it hasn’t been added to a number of required reading lists for high school/university English courses, I’m guessing it will soon.


Geraldine said...

This sounds like a disturbing book but interesting at the same time. I am amazed at how many books you have time to read and review! Your blog is a great resource, thanks.


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