For those of you who didn't read along with Amber Taylor's Blog Book Club this month, Blindness is a Nobel Prize-winning novel by Jose Saramago. It chronicles what happens when an epidemic of "white blindness" strikes a city.
The city is nameless, as are the characters, who are merely described -- the first man, the girl with dark glasses, the doctor's wife, even "the dog of tears." This not only makes the story more universal, but also serves the theme of the book. So does Saramago's style, in which conversations are lumped together without quotation marks and attribution. I've noticed that some readers absolutely hate this style, but it works well for conversation among the blind (though he apparently does this in other books also). Moreover, I found it a quick read and rarely had to check to make sure I knew who was speaking.
Saramago uses the book to explore the truths behind cliches about blindness -- the blind leading the blind, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," love is blind, and so on. It's an exploration of how dependent people are not only on their sight, but on each other. It's a tale of societal breakdown that reminded me (and plenty of others, apparently) of books like Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm.
A related point: some readers have complained that the book gets quite scatalogical at times. Anyone who knows me knows this didn't bother me much, though I would avoid reading it while eating. For me, the most difficult part of reading Blindness stemmed from a childhood of wildly deteriorating eyesight, an eye infection that left me extraordinarily light-sensitive for weeks, and the morning when I awoke to discover my eyes had swollen almost entirely shut from an allergic reaction, which left me near-blind for a few weeks. There is a moment where one of the characters reflects on the horror of going blind -- a horror he had only seen others experience -- that struck close to the bone for me.
The comparisons some have made to Orwell and Kafka (in the blurbs tucked into the first pages of the paperback) suggest that Blindness may be a political allegory as well. However, if this was Saramago's intent, he may have failed. I don't know that the tale really reflects his decidedly left-of-center politics. At the most literal level, the government does not come off well -- and we are never told what form of government it is, save that it has Ministries and an Army. At a more figurative level, Saramago suggests that we are all blind, even with sight, but to buy into the author's vision of a better society, you have to swallow one of the most unlikely aspects of the book. Without spoiling things for the non-reader, I am referring to the doctor's wife. Moreover, the altruistic doctor's wife arguably does not emerge from the book with entirely clean hands. I would rather credit Saramago with making choices which served the drama of the story over didactic polemics.
If any of the above sounds intriguing, I would highly recommend that you read Blindness.
Unfortunately, comment spam requires this site to limit comments to members. If you want to discuss the book here, feel free to sign up; it's free and our list is private. Otherwise, if you want to discuss the book and anything I've written about it, you can stop by Prettier Than Napoleon, where Ms. Taylor is collecting the reviews. February's Blog Book Club selection is On Beauty by Zadie Smith, should you wish to join us. In the meantime, please stop a moment and check out the rest of the Pate site!