book-reviews

Blindness

by José Saramago

Rating: ★★★★★

Blindness is, appropriately enough, a book about people going blind. In fact, it's about an epidemic of blindness, starting with a man sitting in his car at a traffic light and spreading from person to person throughout the whole country. The central characters are some of the earliest to be infected, and spend much of their time in an oppressive quarantine.

There's a lot to be said for this novel. It's certainly artistic and thought-provoking, with its deeper themes covering human nature and moral duty. The blindness of the infected takes on an allegorical role regarding the poor nature of human rationality, and the duty to act that being able to 'see' brings. An annoying side-effect of this is that a number of characters seem almost too pathetic, but I'd hesitate to say that's a flaw as such.

The author uses no quotation marks to distinguish speech from non-speech, which lends a certain breathless quality to the whole affair, and adds to a vaguely surreal sense of connection to events. The characters are also all unnamed, referred to by descriptions such as 'the boy with the squint' and 'the doctor's wife'. In a way, this lack of names seems to help you identify with the characters.

The novel is not for the faint-hearted. Graphic descriptions of suffering, injustice and rape abound. There is also a slightly bizarre scatological fixation in the writing, beyond what I would consider realistic for the scenario. Excrement ends up everywhere.

The middle of the book is frankly painful to get through due to the brutal treatment the author hands out, but for those who are inclined to read on, the mood does lift after that. I wouldn't recommend picking up this book for escapism, but from a pseudo-philosophical angle it is well worth the read.