A veil of milky blindness leaves an unnamed man in an unnamed city without sight. One minute he sits in his car waiting for the traffic light to change, the next his world is dissolved in brilliant pearly whiteness.
As the amaurosis spreads, hundreds of the recently blind are placed in quarantine, herded into an abandoned asylum surrounded by guards who have been instructed to shoot any potential escapees who risk spreading the white blindness to the outside. So begins José Saramago’s lurid portrayal of captive humanity, a novel replete with hulking paragraphs, sparse punctuation, and ambiguously written dialogue.
But this is a good thing! At least in the case of Blindness. Saramago wields a very distinctive writing style, one that perfectly mirrors the characters’ blinded plight. I love when writers do that!
Saramago’s writes page-long paragraphs that subject readers to the same forboding and stifling claustrophobia as the novel’s victims, and walls of unpunctuated dialogue keep readers ignorant of which internee is speaking and to whom.
In fact, none of the characters in Blindness are even named, instead descriptively referred to as “the first blind man,” “the doctor’s wife,” or “the boy with the squint”. As one of the characters states, “Blind people need no names.”
Much of Blindness takes place in the horrific asylum where basic needs such as food, clean water, and medicine are lacking and where the sightless microcosm succumbs to violence, filth, and societal breakdown. The reader, too, is confined to the crooked sanctum, blind to the endemic devastation that is spreading outside the asylum’s walls.
There’s really nothing better than an expertly crafted story about a debilitating epidemic that pushes its characters to the brink of humanity, am I right? Blindness is much like Albert Camus’ The Plague, but without the excruciating monotony, and much like John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, but without the carnivorous foliage.
I’m not saying Blindness couldn’t have used a little murderous greenery, but it definitely was one of the best books I’ve read all year, if not the best book I’ve read all year. (We’re in July now, so that’s a lot of books.)
I really, really want to give a vigorously detailed account of everything that happens in Blindness because it’s all so delightfully harrowing, but I will resist so as not to deter any of my faithful readers from exploring the unholy depths of its pages themselves.
Blindness is the first novel I’ve read by the Nobel Prize-winning José Saramago, who, as it turns out, was an absolute cutie:
Just look at those baby blues! I realize I’m making massive generalizations based on a single photo, but I bet he was the super-sweet quintessential grandpa type. He couldn’t not be with a face like that.
Regardless, Blindness is a fantastically bleak tale of tragedy and despair, and a deeply sociological portrayal of human desperation written with the command and sagacity of a true (and bloody adorable) master.