Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blindness by José Saramago


My sister and I have started trading books back and forth during quarantine and this is the one she wanted me to read first before giving it to her. This is one of the instances where I read the book after seeing the movie. It's a grim dystopia/post-apocalyptic book where a "blindness" plague infects an unnamed society in an unnamed city. Rather than plunging into darkness, the victims find themselves inhabiting a strange, misty whiteness-- and it's highly infectious.

The main characters are never named except for their characteristics. So we have "the first blind man," who stops traffic when he gets out of his car panicking because he is blind. We have the thief who takes him home and offers to wait for him-- and then steals his car. Then we have the blind man's wife, the ophthalmologist, a woman with dark glasses who moonlights as a prostitute, a boy with a squint, a man with an eye patch, and the doctor's wife who, miraculously, remains immune.

One of the chief complaints of this book is the punctuation style and it does make things book very hard to read. The author, for whatever reason, made the choice to not include quotation marks or normal sentences, so dialogue is marked by writing paragraphs that read like this, And then the next branch of dialogue is donated by a capital A, Even when someone else is talking, you ask? Yes, even when someone else is talking, But that sounds confusing you say, Yes, it is, and it results in paragraphs that last for multiple pages, Oh my God, you say, That sounds terrible, It is.

The story itself is equally unpalatable. The blind are shepherded into an empty mental asylum which quickly disintegrates into chaos. The conditions quickly become unsanitary. The military guards shoot up the inhabitants out of blind (if you pardon the unintended pun) fear, and then they stand by and do nothing when an opportunistic gang forms demanding first money and loot as payment and then women and sex in exchange for the food that they have immorally co-opted. Even when freed from the asylum, those who escape find themselves in a society at its very last dregs, where all humanity is lost.

I liked the book okay and thought it told a compelling albeit depressing story, but I probably wouldn't read it again. So many descriptions of vomiting and shit and human waste, and humans performing inhuman acts at the cost of their own survival. It didn't occur to me while reading this book that a dystopian epidemic might not be the best choice of reading material during COVID, but here it is and here I am. It's not a book I'd recommend, but it's a book you won't forget.

3.5 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review.
    Yeah I'm also not a fan of when authors don't use punctuation the way we're expecting. I am definitely all for bending the rules but a lack of quotation marks and periods just make for an unnecessary struggle. I'm curious, though, did the lack of punctuation get worse as the epidemic spread?


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