Daniel Solera's Reviews > Blindness

Blindness by José Saramago
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's review
Sep 12, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, nobel-prize

This novel was a definite stylistic departure from the fiction I've been reading lately. The plot is fairly straightforward: a highly contagious and devastating epidemic of blindness hits an undetermined country, causing the government to react and corral the infected into quarantined camps, where the conditions are so foul that the blind are practically left for dead. Within this camp, the inevitable struggle to survive coupled with their newly acquired blindness pose many challenges to the inmates.

However, the true experience of reading Blindness lies in Saramago's style. Because of the various creative licenses he employs, the novel reads as though the reader him/herself were blind. The entire novel does not contain a single proper noun; characters do not have names, but are instead referred to as "the doctor's wife" or "the first blind man" or "the woman with the black sunglasses". He does not start new lines or indent with new speakers, nor does he even use quotation marks or periods to designate the end of one voice and the beginning of another. Conversations blur together into one run-on sentence, which merge with expository information only to be conjoined with more dialogue. It reads as though one continuous auditory assault, much like I believe a newly blind person would interpret the stimuli around him or her. Interestingly though, there are very few instances where I was genuinely confused as to who was speaking.

Along the way, the theme of blindness naturally leads to issues of power and identity. Advocate groups for the blind have since criticized Saramago's novel (namely after the release of the movie adaptation) for portraying the blind as inept, filthy and degenerate. I believe these claims, though predictable, are too harsh. This novel is about an entire population gone blind in seconds, and not about a group of people born blind. The latter learn to adapt to the world in their own way, whilst the former are unable to suddenly cope.

This was a powerful novel with much insight on the behavior of groups. Its overall message can be interpreted many ways, from suggesting that man reverts to savagery and self-interests when stripped of his/her luxuries, to observing that even the gifted are powerless in an intolerant society.

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