Literary Mumblings

A few words about the books I’ve read…

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Posted by Amanda on April 6, 2009

blindness1Wow. I am not sure what else you can really say to this book. I had heard a few people talk about Blindness, a book by Jose Saramago, and then it was on the Guardian list. Finally, I found a copy and found out that it also won the Nobel Prize for Literature so I was really looking forward to this book, even though the general idea behind the story is rather frightening.

In this book, a man is driving home one day when he is struck by a sudden blindness: he sees only a milky whiteness. His wife takes him to the ophthalmologist, who is not sure what is wrong with him.   That night, the doctor and several of the other patients who were in the waiting room also go blind and so the government reacts swiftly in an attempt to quarantine the afflicted, trying to protect the rest of society.  When the doctor is taken to an old mental asylum, where they are to be quarantined, the doctor’s wife pretends to be blind so that she can stay with her husband and we see the book through her eyes. What follows in the story of how those quarantined in the asylum react and deal with the circumstances they have found themselves in.

A small element that initially concerned me was Saramago’s writing style. Saramago doesn’t seem to like short sentences. In fact, he has the huge long sentences everywhere and no quotation marks, which can make it difficult to figure out who is speaking. For example:

Once inside the building, the blind man said, Many thanks, I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you, I can manage on my own now, No need to apologise, I’ll come up with you, I wouldn’t be easy in my mind if I were to leave you here. They got into the narrow elevator with some difficulty, What floor do you live on, On the third, you cannot imagine how grateful I am, Don’t thank me, today it’s you, Yes, you’re right, tomorrow it might be you.

These are actually some of the shorter sentences but as you can see, it isn’t your typical writing style. I thought it would bother me, but I suppose one gets used to the sytle one is reading after a while and I had very few problems, though I did have a hard time figuring out who was speaking in some of the conversations.

I feel that I should also warn you that parts of this story are truly horrifying, even more so because Saramago paints a very realistic portrait of the darker side of humanity. Lost in blindness, what would happen when you bunch everyone together? Lost in fear for a disease that takes your sight without the least of warnings, how would humanity react? How will those who can exert power use that power? The answers that Saramago presents are very easy to believe and terrible in that reality. Bad things happen to good people and bad people alike and Saramago makes you think.

Part of me would like to recommend this book because it is great writing and truly thought-provoking – it is a story that reveals one view of humanity and brings up all the emotions that Saramago seems to have been seeking. Much of this book was very touching. Still, the picture he paints is not one that everyone can deal with and I nearly set the book down for good at several points. My point: beware and think carefully before you pick this book up. It has many things to recommend it but whether those outweigh the terrors – that is up to you.

Other (better-written) reviews:
Shelf Love
Hey Lady!
books i done read



One Response to “Blindness by Jose Saramago”

  1. trish said

    Thanks for linking to my review! 🙂

    And I agree…this book is probably not for everyone. The bleak picture may not outweigh its good points, depending on who you ask.

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