Book review 17 – Blindness

Blindness

by José Saramago

RATING: 4 stars

Reading challenge: Dystopia Reading Challenge 2014, hosted by Ula@Blog of Erised

GR summary:

A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. As Blindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.

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I enjoyed the book in audio form, which was apparently a brilliant idea on my part since experimental (or lack of) punctuation is one of my pet peeves in literature. You really don’t want to know my thoughts on Joyce’s Ulysses…

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, if one can say that about a gritty dystopia where people kill one another, steal, cheat, rape, and behave less than human. It was the writer’s unflinching descriptions of what frightened and desperate people can sink to that makes it an enthralling read. Admittedly, you might want to wipe your mind with bleach after some scenes, but the realisation that he’s not making things up or exaggerating for the horror factor will get you every single time.

The levels of filth and brutality people sink to makes me wonder though; are there no smart people left in charge? If there’s an epidemic of blindness shouldn’t you recruit people working with the blind to instruct the inflicted ones? You know, make them comfortable with their new condition, control their fear and help them overcome their feeling of helplessness? When we finally see the first blind person capable of writing in Braille and navigating through his life with some ease, he’s working with the gang stealing food and raping women. I was appalled.

This book is an exploration of the human condition; literal blindness is a metaphor for the way we consciously overlook things, issues, and people in our everyday life. It is a report condemning our less than human behaviour set within the frames of a dystopia. It is a particularly effective portrayal despite its problems.

The characters don’t have names, but are described as the girl with the dark glasses, the man with the eye patch, the doctor, the doctor’s wife, etc.. They are one of the first who have gone blind and they are one of the few who try to behave like decent human beings. Of course, they have problems of their own that reflect how they deal with the situation. The only person who retained eyesight is the doctor’s wife. She’s our protagonist since we see the world mostly from her view, others being blind and unable to describe much, but other characters contribute to the story in a great way as well, so I should rather say that we have a group of minor protagonists as well.

The story progresses at a fast, gripping pace for the first 60 to 70 percent of the novel, but once they get out of the asylum, then it slows down. I started to lose interest at some points, I must admit, because I waited for the people to start working together on a larger scale, making an effort to survive and improve their situation. We don’t see that here although some people carve out a niche for themselves. Still, the majority are only too glad to one up one another.

Consensus: You’ll like the story if you’re looking for a gritty dystopia, but the latter half might lack the structure and strength of the first part. If you fear blindness, this book will play it up with a passion.

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