Thursday, 17 January 2013

Blindness - Jose Saramago

You know those books that you know are really good and you know you should read and you know you'll probably like but you can never quite make yourself pick up? Yeah, that was Blindness for me for awhile. I really liked the idea of the plot and the author had won the Nobel for Literature the year before it was published so that gives you an idea of its quality. Nevertheless, it sat quite sadly on my bookshelf for months. 

However, with my imminent departure from the UK and the lack of room in my suitcase for books (and the ridiculously exorbitant amount they expect you to pay for shipping), I have started reading everything and anything I own and then, almost immediately, giving it to a friend I think might like it. And so it was with Blindness.

Blindness tells the story of a sudden epidemic of a new kind of blindness. One day, as a man sits in his car, waiting for the light to change, he no longer can see. It isn't a dark blindness, either; he can only see a bright white. A good samaritan helps him back to his home but then proceeds to steal his car. When his wife gets home, she takes the man to the eye doctor who has never seen anything like it. The next day, the "good samaritan", the eye doctor and various patients in the clinic that day become blind, as well.

As the blindness moves from person to person, seemingly from just making eye contact with each other, the government begins to worry and quarantines the blind and the infected into old mental hospitals. However, as the government begins to fall apart, the blind become rowdy and without a clear leadership, criminals begin to take over the ward.

Throughout all this, there is one character who can always see. The eye doctor's wife never goes blind but fakes it so that she can accompany her husband to the quarantine. She spends the novel trying to help but also having to pretend that she is also blind. It is with her character we are supposed to empathize with (and I did, at least) and her character that we see the suffering of the others.

The plot of Blindness is quite brilliant. It is always interesting and page turning, never growing dull. I also really enjoyed the narrative voice. It was a bit meandering, in the best kind of way, throwing in asides and ideas so much that the narrator became a sort of invisible character, someone watching a movie with you and making up comments as they go along.

The only thing that bothered me about Blindness, to be honest, was the formatting and some editing choices. Most of the story is told in huge, chunky paragraphs with long, run on sentences whose endings and beginnings don't make a ton of sense. While I understand at least part of the choice to do this, throwing the reader into a disorientated state with the characters, not allowing you to skim by forcing you to concentrate on long paragraphs, I still didn't enjoy it. But what can I say? I'm not a Nobel winner.

I did quite enjoy Blindness and found the plot very interesting. While it's not a super thriller, it's definitely page turning and I would recommend it, as long as you're up for the challenge.

Oh! And there's a lovely movie starring Julienne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. A great adaptation of the book. I think the end works particularly well in the movie version, I thought.

1 comment:

  1. Check out my analysis of Blindness on my literary blog:

    I have two posts on the novel: Blindness and the Inevitable In-Group, and Blindness and Existential Choice.