Updated on May 19, 2015
4. ‘Seeing’ by José Saramago
This is the sequel to ‘Blindness‘, which I read last year, and I am delighted that there’s more to this story. ‘Seeing’ is set in the same country as the first book, four years after the epidemic of blindness, which isn’t spoken of by the inhabitants of the country any more. The collective will has deliberately tried to forget the events and, to begin with at least, they are only referenced in hushed tones.
This book opens in a polling office on election day in the country’s capital. We see members of the various parties and those manning the polling station, each deftly characterised and quickly recognisable, despite having no names. During the morning only a handful of voters arrive, setting the entire polling station on edge. In the afternoon there is a huge influx of people – all coincidentally emerging from their homes at exactly the same time – but when the votes are counted 70% of them are blank. Another election is held, but this time 83% of the votes are blank.
As with ‘Blindness’, I loved seeing how Saramago begins with one fairly simple idea and demonstrates how quickly circumstances can escalate out of control. Pretty quickly an ‘us and them’ divide is established between the government and the voting public. The problem of the blank votes is referred to as an epidemic and those in charge take increasingly extreme measures to stop it spreading, even though the people of the nation’s capital have done nothing outside the law.
“…it was arrant nonsense to take away the rights of someone whose only crime had been to exercise one of those rights.”
I love the self-referential narrative voice that tells this story. Occasionally the voice breaks the fourth wall, as it were, to discuss the structure of chapters, or distances himself from a certain turn of phrase by pointing out that it is the character’s, not his own. Whereas ‘Blindness’ focuses on the points of view of the people on the ground, this story is told from the perspective of the leaders. The people are made to seem alien and frightening to the reader because this is how the government sees them.
I hugely enjoyed revisiting some of the characters from the first book, including the infamous doctor’s wife. It doesn’t take long for the government to try and establish a connection between the fact that she didn’t go blind in the first epidemic, and the sudden outbreak of the second. I also loved the use of weather in this book: it represents chaos, something the country’s leaders certainly cannot control and frequently fail to take into account.
Essentially, this is an exercise in futility. No explanation is ever given for the blank votes (as with the blindness) and instead we see a group of leaders struggling against a non-existent foe, trying to give it a body, a character and a name, but failing because it has none of these things. Whilst those on the outside call the ‘blankers’ a movement, the steadfast narrator insists that it is merely a coincidence of individuals.
In short, I loved this book.
“…all I said was that four years ago we were blind and what I’m saying now is that we probably still are.”
I didn’t realise, when I read ‘Blindness’, that it had a sequel, so as soon as I found out about ‘Seeing’ I had to get it. I got it as a Christmas present.
If you enjoyed my review, why not buy the book and let me know what you think?