Book Review: “Seeing”

I finished José Saramago’s Seeing yesterday. This novel, which was published in Portuguese in 2004 but released in an English translation this year, is the follow-up to Blindness, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

The events in Seeing occur four years following the epidemic of blindness that swept the population of the unidentified country introduced in Blindness. The Pulitzer-prize winning author takes you pretty far into the book before any mention of those previous events, and even further before any of the characters from Blindness appear. Once they do appear, however, they become central to the plot and while it’s not essential to have read Blindness to comprehend Seeing (no pun intended), it is helpful.

Saramago’s writing style is unchanged: no regard for punctuation, sentences that run on for paragraphs, few obvious clues during conversations as to who is speaking…although none of these things, or even all of them collectively make the story difficult to follow. In fact, these literary affectations have the strange consequence of freeing the reader’s imagination and allowing her or him to form a kind of partnership with the author.

This is a difficult book to review without revealing too much. I apologize to those who haven’t yet read Blindness; my recommendation is not to read Seeing until you do. Seriously. Both books will be more meaningful if you’ll read them in the proper sequence.

If you have read Blindness, you should know that on the surface…in the beginning…the two novels have nothing in common other than the author’s unusual writing style. Whereas the first book was horrifying and brutal almost from the start, Seeing is light, fanciful, amusing — even comical at times, in a Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup kind of way. It’s a more overtly politicial story than its predecessor, with an overarching theme that those in power will do anything to stay in power. You’ll be tempted to look for allusions to current governments and politicians in Saramago’s fictitious setting; any success you might have in this endeavor will be entirely yours.

I’ll leave you with this simple warning about Seeing: it’s a literary sucker-punch, and it doesn’t end like it begins. If you’re interested in following some of the characters you met in Blindness (who may very well have been introduced in even earlier works by the author; I’ve not read any of his other novels), I assure you that you’ll want to read Seeing. What I cannot assure you is how you’ll feel after it’s all over.