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on 27 September 2006
A sequel of sorts to Blindness, I would recommend you read that book first, as, while not vital to the plot's enjoyment, it certainly embellishes the sparsely illustrated back story and gives a clearer idea of just how bad things got four years previous to (and referenced throughout) this novel's chronology.

Saramago is a challenging writer; his insistence upon endless prose with little to no puntuation, and a refusal to give names to characters, let alone use the conventions of paragraphs and speech marks for dialogues, all add up to a slower, more arduous read - but perhaps a more detailed and careful one for that.

The story is as outlined, but I would say that I disagree with the other reviewer, insomuch that I felt the second half was plot driven as the first, rather it becomes a slightly different plot - an investigation. The story moves from macro-study to micro-study, but throughout, as with Blindness, concerns itself with the paranoia of power and the desperate, despicable methods invoked to maintain power and control.

Personally, I enjoyed Seeing more than Blindness, but that is mainly because Blindess is a far more harrowing read, not that Seeing is the better novel. Seeing shows us the folly and weakness of those in power - something one can examine with a degree of (powerless?) complacency; Blindness holds a bleached mirror up to each and every one of us and terrifies.
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on 5 April 2010
"Seeing" is the ostensible follow up to Saramago's "Blindness" and is once again focused on an unnamed city (Lisbon) and an unnamed populace. Whereas Blindness focused on the fragility of human nature, and how an epidemic of blindness brought about the reduction of humanity to animals, Seeing focuses its gaze on the fragility of democracy. For Saramago democracy is as inherently fragile as human nature - when a spate of blank votes forces politicians and leaders to reject just what they are trying to defend.

This book started off very well and if you enjoy Saramago's writing style then you will enjoy the first 50 pages or so as he develops his thesis. However, here is where the flaw exists - he just does not know when to stop. At one point the narrator even explains that he does not know where this story is going and that is what I, as the reader, also felt. The book then moves onto a more functional narrative following a detective as he investigates those suspected of leading the so called "blankers". Luckily it comes in time and manages to save the book from itself and finally finishes with some crisp writing leading the political assassination of a number of characters.

To conclude I think it is important to note that Seeing is not nearly as good as Blindness (and probably does not work as a single piece of work). The idea underpinning the book is intellectually engaging but it is not enough to carry the story. Only when we are given a functional narrative does the book actually begin to work properly. All in all this is a flawed piece of work but commendable nonetheless - there are not many writers grappling with such important themes and to do them with his individual sense of style is even more important. One for the Saramago purists.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 April 2012
Translated from the Portuguese, "Seeing" by the Nobel prize winner Saramago was published in 2004 as a sequel to "Blindness" which came out nine years previously.

"Seeing" can be read as a "standalone" although the final section makes more sense and has more poignancy if you have read "Blindness" which describes the rapid social breakdown after a nameless city is struck down by an epidemic of blindness in which everything appears white.

Whereas "Blindness" contains passages of almost unbearable but plausible violence and degradation, "Seeing" seems quite mild at first, more of a political satire. After a city election in which 83% of the votes casts are blank (parallel with white blindness?), the Government is uncertain how to respond to this apparent act of mass subversion, and takes a number of crass measures in which democracy and freedom are steadily crushed. Beneath the figurehead of a benign President, the Prime Minister assumes ever more roles as a sinister intelligence service exerts control in the background. The irony which seems to escape their leaders is that, far from breaking out into crime and disorder as predicted, people seem to behave much better when left to their own devices without being governed. Also, if they really start trying to organise themselves against the state, it is because they have been driven to it.

In a country like Portugal which experienced recent dictatorship, Saramago's vision seems very apposite, and his tendency to write in allegories is understandable. What is more, in view of recent unsettling events, growth of international monopolies and centralisation, endless proof of corruption and concealment, our growing disillusion with traditional parties and politicians, Saramago's parody seems very relevant.

The facetious style of "Seeing", so that at one point the author implies he is wondering how to finish the novel, makes the occasional acts of brutality all the more chilling, and because you know that Saramago is capable of utter ruthlessness, the anticipation of violence and tension can be quite high. Yet the novel is often very funny, such as the dialogue in which the interior minister, insisting on the code-name albatross inflicts bird names on his unfortunate superintendent (puffin) and all the other parties mentioned. This is all the more ironical since Saramoga never describes any of his characters by name.

This brings me on to the style, which was quite effective in "Blindness" by creating a flow of words to carry you through the horror, but which in "Seeing" can be quite confusing. I refer to the lack of paragraphs, to the exhausting multiple-clause sentences, and the suspension of normal punctuation of speech with inverted commas and a new line for each speaker.

"Seeing" has much more dialogue than "Blindness" and some sharp, amusing , play-like exchanges were marred for me by the problem of working out who is speaking. Even when I attempted to do this, I still wasn't always sure, and the rhythm of reading was destroyed in the process. It's also hard to refer back to a point in the dense mass of text without any "landmark" line breaks.

Whereas "Blindness" left me feeling upbeat - perhaps that the ending was "too happy" - "Seeing" had a more depressing aftertaste. Another of Saramoga's ironies. Despite the effort required to read him and the numerous often tedious digressions, Saramago's books are thought-provoking and last in one's memory.
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on 16 May 2007
Four years ago a City was hit by a plague of blindness. It was contagious and there was no cure. Before long the entire population was blind and the City descended into savagery. But one woman retained her sight, leading her friends to survival. Through it all she had to watch as the savage and horrific events unfolded. But then, as quickly as it started, the blindness began to ease, people regained their sight and everything returned to normal.

This was the plot of the startlingly original and thoroughly terrifying novel from Portuguese Nobel Prize winning author Jose Saramago. `Blindness' was a pleasure to read, as is `Seeing'.

We are now four years later and it is election day. But when the results are announced the government is devastated to discover that over 70% of the votes cast are blank. Not spoiled, not abstained, just blank. They hastily call a new election but the results only get worse, now over 83% have cast blank votes. The Government panics, indignantly struggling to contain what they see as a strike at the very heart of democracy. But there is no sign of where this conspiracy has come from, no sign of what criminal mastermind is behind it all. They declare a state of emergency and blockade the City, to teach the people a lesson about democratic responsibility.

Just as in `Blindness' the premise behind this novel is absolutely fantastic. There are few books which are as timely or whose satire is as incisive and funny. The portrayal of a pseudo-dictatorial democratic government dogmatically using every dirty trick in the book to dissuade the populace from dissent is disturbingly believable. It is impossible not to be inspired by the opportunity for political dissent that such a mass tactic would provide, is impossible not to dream of such unity of hearts and minds. The subtlety of the author allows him to write the entire book from the perspective of the authorities whist, at the same time, lambasting their all too believable policies.

The prose style is dense and Saramago's archetypal style makes for an often difficult read. This is a book to read feverishly in a couple of days because it can be difficult to pick up and put down. Also the narrative distance that Saramago affords his characters means they are difficult to connect with and there is little emotional centre to associate with. Instead this is a fearsomely intelligent tour de force in which Saramago questions how we can live so passively in a world like ours.

And the question remains: what or who has led the populace to act in this divisive way? Or could it be that the City is suffering once more from an infectious plague, this time making people see more than any disparate group ever could. Perhaps I read too much into the ending of this book, but if not then `Seeing' has one of the most brilliantly conceived plots of any book I have ever read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 July 2012
I read this book shortly after having completed 'Blindness'. 'Seeing' is a sequel to 'Blindness'.

At first there appears to be little to explicitly link the two books. This book's premise is a subconscious revolution whereby the inhabitants of a city start to behave in a curiously collective manner - 83% of them cast a blank ballot at a general election. This inevitably creates confusion and panic within the government.

Like 'Blindness', part of my pleasure in this book was due to Saramago's unusual and distinctive narrative style. Again, there are no quotation marks for dialogue, and many long sentences which frequently have a "stream of consciousness" quality. Characters are never identified by their proper names. Despite this the book is easy to follow.

It took me about 100 pages to really get into this book. It's at around the 100 page mark that the book shifts from being focussed on the government's reaction to the blank votes, to a story involving the main characters from 'Blindness' and some undercover policemen. The book became more absorbing and compelling from this moment.

Saramago poses profound questions whilst providing plenty of his deadpan, wry humour mainly at the expense of hierarchy and bureaucracy. The book holds up a mirror to the modern democratic process; the farcical nature of hierarchy; political "spin"; and the corruption that inevitably accompanies power. The book becomes more unsettling and disturbing as it reaches its conclusion. That said, there is also a positive message around personal choice and redemption. By the end there is much to ponder, and I think the book would make an excellent choice for a book group to discuss. This is a challenging and original political and sociological satire. Well worth reading.
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on 9 June 2009
Once you have got used to Saramgo's gentle , meandering , witty sentences this becomes a page turner. First very funny, mocking and appropriate at this time of distrust of politicians; then taking a sinister turn once the author decides to follow the Blindness link.He debates this path with himself and the reader in an astonishing way.
The end , when it comes, comes quickly and surprisingly leaving one sad and apprehensive for the future, wishing Saramago had chosen a different path. Brilliant.
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on 29 July 2012
This novel's plot seems surreal at first, but becomes more an more realistic the more one turns the pages. The characters' absurd crime, which is that of casting blank ballots on election day, is intensified and seen as horrific deeds by the persons in power. The political satire is at first funny but the tone darkens and the tension rises gradually.
I myself preferred the book "Blindness" for the descriptions and the characters' interrelations and mostly for the journey from darkness into light.
This book however is an important study, but has a more pessimistic approach.

Joyce Akesson, author of The Invitation,Love's Thrilling Dimensions and Majnun Leyla: Poems about Passion.
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on 14 July 2009
Seeing is the fourth Jose Saramago book I've read this year - his style of prose, once you're used to it, is addictive. As the other reviewers have said, it's probably worth reading Blindness first, though that was my least favourite book so far.

Seeing is about what happens when we become complacent, and when those who govern us become complacent too. The complacency of society in this case is an active refusal to do what is expected of them. The complacency of government is to maintain the status quo at all costs. The ending isn't a happy one.

Given the times in which we live of expense scandals and BNP votes, Seeing is a must-read for anyone with an interest in things being different.
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on 4 April 2015
This took some time and patience to catch the author's voice and pace of the book. Once I was in the groove, I loved it. It is very funny and made me laugh out loud at times. It is full of ideas and challenges. It is a 'what if' book and very skilfully constructed.

The premise is simple - the inhabitants of a certain city collectively stop voting. The rest is a dark comedy with tragic consequences. It will resonate long after it has been read and is a good book to discuss and argue about with friends and family.
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on 14 January 2015
Seeing is the cooler, more intellectual brother, or clever little cousin, of Blindness. It's a political satire, sharp, incisive and funny, but not without an emotional side. Perhaps one shouldn't even try to compare the two, they are related but not inter-dependent. Blindness is more visceral, and more powerful because of that. Still vintage Saramago, Seeing was a little less potent for me. But absolutely worth reading.
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