Blindness by Jose Saramago
An illness spreads through an unnamed city. It has only one symptom: blindness. It comes without fanfare, pain, or warning. One moment a man waits in his car at the traffic lights, the next his world has dissolved to white.
What follows is a riveting portrayal of the best and worst of human nature.
If Orwell’s 1984 was the horror of the panopticon, of always being watched, then Blindness is the opposite. Saramago’s dystopic vision is that scrutiny is non-existent. Here, the Government’s regulatory control is impotently bureaucratic. With no one able to see, the unnamed characters in Blindness are plunged into a world where the strong exploit the weak, and even the most basic social mores are lost. The struggle to survive creates (or amplifies) a secondary mental blindness, where few of the characters can envision a future beyond managing their own immediate, physical needs.
We see the story unfold through the eyes of a middle-aged woman known in the book only as ‘the doctor’s wife’. It is her ordinariness and her compassion which grounds the story and adds a glimmer of hope to what sometimes seems like relentless darkness.
Blindness is one of those rare books that crawled inside my head and has stayed with me for years after I read it. It transported me to another world and made me see my own world with new eyes. It is filled with language that you can re-read and savour.
As fascinating as this novel is, be warned: it is not for the faint-hearted. I am not just speaking of the intense horror and sexual violence, but of sentences that stretch unbroken for over a page, and dialogue absent quotation marks. The style is rhythmic, reflective, playful, brutal, and poetic. Either you have the patience for this sort of thing or you don’t. Usually, I don’t. But there was something about the intensity of Saramago’s vision which sucked me in despite my reservations.
For anyone interested in dystopic fiction, this is one of the must-read works of the genre.
José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998 and Blindness has been made into a film directed by Fernando Meirelles and starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore.
This Blindness book review was written by Caroline Norrington
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