It’s been a while since my last review. Like many of you, sometimes life gets in the way of my reading…
There are some types of stories that seem to find fame in cycles. Think zombies, vampires, or asteroids colliding with Earth. Then there are types of stories that never seem too far removed from our collective mind.
In Blindness, Jose Saramago tries his hand at one of the latter – an apocalyptic story (of sorts) in which it isn’t war or aliens or nuclear fallout that cause the calamity. It’s just blindness. Specifically, a never before “seen” white blindness, that renders its sufferers awash in an overwhelming brightness.
Saramago traces the very beginning of the outbreak – and the story never does reveal the nature of the beast – from its first unfortunate victim, a taxi driver who is struck blind just as a busy intersection’s streetlight turns green. He then parades the reader through the next victims, all the unfortunate souls who interacted with him. In a cruel twist of irony, this includes the opthamologist whom the man visits for diagnosis, as well as his patients.
It is this group, centered around the eye doctor, who are first sequestered from society in order to attempt to allay the blindness epidemic. As the story quickly narrows it’s focus, the reader becomes caught in the claustrophobic nightmare – where those, including the government, who would usually help people, are instead fearful of them.
Saramago takes full advantage of the opportunity to explore human nature and the societal attachment to sight that, as he suggests, permits for some blindness, but falls apart rapidly when it becomes widespread. The reader is left to see the world through the eyes of the one sighted person remaining: the wife of the eye doctor. The second half of the book truly becomes her story, and one that is a unique and riveting twist on the old trope of the lone survivor.
Although I was very moved by this story, I warn readers that it is a translated text (from Portugese) and that Saramago’s writing style does not use many of the traditional markers for signifying speech. As a result, the narrative can be difficult to follow at times, especially when multiple characters carry on a conversation.
That said, this was a very interesting book, and was a Nobel Prize winner. If you are looking for something to challenge yourself, consider Blindness a worthy choice.