Book Review: “Blindness”

I started reading José Saramago’s Blindness around 9:00 p.m. on Friday and finished it about an hour ago (it’s Sunday, about 3:30 p.m.). 326 pages in less than 48 hours. That’s not exactly a speed-reading record, but it should be taken as an indication of the mesmerizing quality of this novel about what happens when an epidemic of blindness sweeps through the population of an unidentified nation.

This book was published eleven years ago and there’s nothing I can add to the discussion about its message. Neither do I wish to reveal any additional details of the plot. All I want to do is share my reaction to the novel, since others have expressed an interest.

The author acts as an omniscient narrator, an observer and occasional interpreter of the events that unfold through the progression of the “disease” (if that’s what it is). The writing style is almost stream of consciousness, but I found it not difficult at all to comprehend. (I did wonder how much, if any, of this style came from the fact that the novel was translated from Portuguese. There’s a rather poignant publisher’s footnote at the end informing the reader that the original translator died before completing the work, which was taken over by another person.)

But the words and construction are just the delivery mechanism for a story with details that are by turns, incredibly disturbing and touching. Those details are so vividly described, so realistic, so brutal, that one might feel transported into the story…and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.

One Gazette reader wanted to know if Blindness would cause nightmares, and my answer is that if one is prone to taking what they read into their subconscious then, yes, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of. But it would be unfair to leave it at that, because the diligent reader will find eventually find some redemption in the story.

Saramago is a Communist and an atheist, and I find some of his political views repugnant; his view of the world and humanity are colored by a lens that is very different from mine. But he has created a undeniably powerful novel, one that consumed my weekend, and I don’t regret the investment of time.

Next up, Saramago’s follow-up novel published this year: Seeing. I think I’ll wait a few days, though…maybe just enjoy looking at things for a while.