Updated on August 5, 2015
17. ‘Blindness’ by José Saramago
In an unnamed city a line of traffic sits at a red light. The light goes green but one of the cars doesn’t move. The driver has suddenly gone blind and, eventually, this strange ‘white blindness’ spreads throughout the city like a contagion, leaving an apocalyptic chaos in its wake.
The style of this book takes a bit of getting used to at first. There are no speech marks, for example, and different people’s voices aren’t even distinguished by separate lines. The result is disorienting – you can’t always be sure who’s saying what, as everybody’s words merge together into a jumble of confused speech – and I really liked it. The reader is put in the same position as the blind characters: they can’t see who’s speaking, and neither can we.
Throughout the entire book one character – the doctor’s wife – can still see. She is interned with the others in a mental institution, in a futile attempt by the state to stop the blindness from spreading. It is through her that the reader sees how quickly hygiene and order disintegrate. A lot happens in a relatively short space of time (almost one hundred pages in and they have only been interned for three days, but it feels like a lot longer). This is one of those books that, when you reach the end, you think back to the beginning and wonder at how far everything has come.
I loved how, all the way through, the characters use idioms that relate to sight, without noticing they’re doing it. Even weeks after going blind, they still occasionally forget that they can’t see. In one scene the doctor asks for volunteers by getting those who want to take part to raise their hands. It’s a rare moment of humour in the novel, that is otherwise poignant and tragic. This is a thought-provoking read, written in quite beautiful, dream-like prose.
“Perhaps in the other wards the debate had been much the same, since we know that human reason and unreason are the same everywhere.”
I bought this as part of a book binge I really couldn’t afford! As soon as I read the first line of the blurb I knew I would buy it, so even though it was a little over-indulgent, I couldn’t resist. Now, of course, I want the sequel. [Update: in 2013 I read the sequel, ‘Blindness’, and you can read my review here.]
I watched the film yesterday – it was quite faithful to the book, which isn’t always a good thing, because there was no way it could do the whole story justice. Sometimes I think it’s better to lose some elements for a film, rather than only half-doing everything. It was a fairly good watch but, as in most cases, the book is far better.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?