Book Review: Blindness by José Saramago
Have you ever thought that everyone in the world is blind to reality. That they don’t notice anything of importance going on around them and only think of themselves. Portuguese author José Saramago definitely thought of that and took it a couple of steps further and wrote a novel about a world where everybody becomes stricken with blindness. Instead of writing a novel about a bunch of blind people bumping into things or writing an epidemic story, he writes a deep and philosophical novel about humanities worst and also its best, all with a truly unique writing style.
Blindness starts out telling of the first instance of the blindness epidemic where a man driving his car is suddenly can see only white while stopped at a traffic light. A good Samaritan helps him reach his home and the narrative continues to follow different characters as the “white blindness” spreads. As the epidemic starts to spread slowly, we are introduced to an optometrist and his wife, the latter becoming the main protagonist of the story.
As the epidemic is brought to the attention of the government, it becomes decided to house the people who are being hit with the “white blindness” in an abandoned mental asylum where they will be held until there is a cure found or the epidemic passes. As time passes the asylum becomes more full and the people who are put in there don’t know how to live with being blind, and as the expression goes “it’s the blind leading the blind”, with the exception of the optometrists wife, who for an unexplained reason, can see, and for good reason, keeps this fact a secret from anybody who is not her husband.
The asylum is guarded by the military with orders to shoot and kill anyone who comes too close to the exit, which they oblige out of fear of becoming blind themselves. The military also promises that there will be food rations sent to the people inside, but never seem to be able to send enough food. This lack of food and the dishonesty of some of the blind inside leads to people becoming desperate and hostile.
After a major incident some people of the asylum are able to escape and are led by the still seeing doctors wife. What they find is a world in which everybody is blind and the doctors wife is able to see the chaos caused by this epidemic. Through her eyes we are able to see mankind at its worst and the human heart at its best.
The writing style deserves special notice. José Saramago seems to have a major problem with quotation marks, there is not one to be seen in the entire book. This little problem with “” leads to some very interesting flow to his story. Instead of conversations being broken up with”blah blah blah” she said. And “dibbity dobbity doo” he replied. following on a line underneath, we are given a flow that looks more like this: blah blah blah, dibbity dobbity doo, but blaah, no doo. After getting used to this style conversations flow fluidly and when mixed with the flowing prose around it you get a very stream of conscious feeling and it really helps you get completely lost in this world of the blind.
So, in closing, I highly recommend giving this book a read. It’s a great story, it has wonderful style, and in the end can gets the gears moving inside your head. I will most certainly be looking into picking up another book by Mr. Saramago in the near future, I see that he has a follow-up story to this one that looks pretty interesting. “If you can see, look. If you look, observe.”