Home > Uncategorized > Blindness – Jose Saramago

Blindness – Jose Saramago

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Blindness sees Nobel laureate Saramago take that old proverb out for a spin, as the unnamed inhabitants of an unnamed city are struck down with a disease that turns their vision milky white, rendering them effectively blind and trapped in eternal sunlight. All except for one character, known as the doctor’s wife, who retains her vision throughout for reasons unknown.

Most of the novel takes place in a quarantine camp set up by the government who are a bunch of sadistic bastards with a fairly loose grasp of epidemiology. Rather than treating the illness and testing them for possible vaccines, the infected are given regular supplies of food and left to fend for themselves. How does that work out for them? About as well as can be expected for inhabitants of a dense metaphor on the nature of capitalism written by a rabid Communist.

(i.e. not very well)

It’s like Animal Farm and Lord Of The Flies, in that the social allegory is always front and centre, although plot and characterisation are pretty sound too, as you might expect from someone who’s earned a benediction from the Nobel committee. Actually, what’s probably most striking is Saramago’s use of language, with character names and recognisable punctuation thrown out the window. A whole conversation can happen in one sentence using only commas, really, yes, isn’t that annoying, no actually you get the hang of it after a while.

The thing it most seems to be inspired by is Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man and there’s the same sense of humanity being slowly eroded as disease, hunger and anarchy start taking over. The filth is the most striking thing: the rotten food, excrement, corpses and other signs of decay that everyone can smell but only the doctor’s wife can see. This misery, while brilliantly rendered gets a little choking at times and can make your skin feel all sticky and dirty.

The last third of the book is set outside of quarantine after blindness has struck the entire city. It’s kind of a very long epilogue and doesn’t have the same narrative drive as the rest of the book, although these is some brilliant writing including a fairly unforgettable glimpse of hell, and another of heaven.

All in all it’s a profound little parable written by a true master, although it will probably make you want to have a long shower afterwards.

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