Blindness Paperback – 13 Nov 2008
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In an unnamed city in an unnamed country, a man sitting in his car waiting for a traffic light to change is suddenly struck blind. But instead of being plunged into darkness, this man sees everything white, as if he "were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea." A Good Samaritan offers to drive him home (and later steals his car); his wife takes him by taxi to a nearby eye clinic where they are ushered past other patients into the doctor's office. Within a day the man's wife, the taxi driver, the doctor and his patients, and the car thief have all succumbed to blindness. As the epidemic spreads, the government panics and begins quarantining victims in an abandoned mental asylum--guarded by soldiers with orders to shoot anyone who tries to escape. So begins Portuguese author José Saramago's gripping story of humanity under siege, written with a dearth of paragraphs, limited punctuation, and embedded dialogue minus either quotation marks or attribution. At first this may seem challenging, but the style actually contributes to the narrative's building tension, and to the reader's involvement.
In this community of blind people there is still one set of functioning eyes: the doctor's wife has affected blindness in order to accompany her husband to the asylum. As the number of victims grows and the asylum becomes overcrowded, systems begin to break down: toilets back up, food deliveries become sporadic; there is no medical treatment for the sick and no proper way to bury the dead. Inevitably, social conventions begin to crumble as well, with one group of blind inmates taking control of the dwindling food supply and using it to exploit the others. Through it all, the doctor's wife does her best to protect her little band of blind charges, eventually leading them out of the hospital and back into the horribly changed landscape of the city.
Blindness is in many ways a horrific novel, detailing as it does the total breakdown in society that follows upon this most unnatural disaster. Saramago takes his characters to the very edge of humanity and then pushes them over the precipice. His people learn to live in inexpressible filth, they commit acts of both unspeakable violence and amazing generosity that would have been unimaginable to them before the tragedy. The very structure of society itself alters to suit the circumstances as once-civilized, urban dwellers become ragged nomads traveling by touch from building to building in search of food. The devil is in the details, and Saramago has imagined for us in all its devastation a hell where those who went blind in the streets can never find their homes again, where people are reduced to eating chickens raw and packs of dogs roam the excrement-covered sidewalks scavenging from corpses.
And yet in the midst of all this horror Saramago has written passages of unsurpassed beauty. Upon being told she is beautiful by three of her charges, women who have never seen her, "the doctor's wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels, just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain." In this one woman Saramago has created an enduring, fully developed character who serves both as the eyes and ears of the reader and as the conscience of the race. And in Blindness he has written a profound, ultimately transcendent meditation on what it means to be human. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"This is a shattering work by a literary master...a book of real stature" (Boston Globe)
"He writes a prose of particularly luminous intensity, brilliantly rendered into English by his regular translator Giovanni Pontiero...Sweepingly ambitious" (The Times)
"Saramago repeatedly undertakes to unite the pressing demands of the present with an unfolding vision of the future. This is his most apocalyptic, and most optimistic, version of that project yet." (Independent)
"A powerful fable" (Scotsman)
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Top Customer Reviews
A man stuck at traffic lights suddenly goes blind in his car. Passers-by who come to help him (or not) are soon similarly afflicted. An opthalmologist can't come up with a diagnosis, and is soon blind himself. As the contagion appears to be spread by close contact, the authorities are soon interning the sufferers at gunpoint in an abandoned lunatic asylum. After a horrifying bloodbath, the survivors break out of the asylum to discover a desecrated, almost post-nuclear city, inhabited by wandering bands of the blind...
On the face of it, Saramago goes out of his way to make things difficult for the reader: the text is virtually unpunctuated, and none of the characters are named. He also gives us frequent authorly "asides" on the action: as noted by other reviewers, it is not always clear how to take these, but they seem likely to be meant ironically rather than literally. Despite these apparent obstacles, the novel actually reads like a thriller, and the reader may well find it unputdownable (I certainly did).Read more ›
The story starts with a man in his car at traffic lights who goes suddenly blind. He is helped home by a stranger, who a few hours later also goes blind. Within a few days the blindness has spread round half the city and also those afflicted are herded up by the government into a disused mental assylum and left alone. The wards quickly become overrun with filth and chaos ensues. In the middle of this, though, we get to know a handful of characters very well and it is really their story that we follow through the neverending days, lack of food and riots. The whole story is told through long paragraphs of uunbroken text. There are no quotation marks, hardly any punctuation and none of the characters are given names.
I admit to being concerned that I would find it difficult to overcome the lack of punctuation, but for commas and fullstops, and the lack of names (characters are referred to in such ways as the girl with dark glasses, the boy with the squint etc) but not only was it very easy to get used to this it actually added to the story. Also, although the characters don't have names, I found myself identifying with and caring about these characters far more than I have done in other books as Saramago writing drags you in and you find yourself unable to let go. It's as though I was "there". Genius!
If you read nothing else this year, make it this. It is astounding and I only wish I could award more than 5 stars.
The story covers all the expected 'stuff' when society is faced with it's breakdown: filth, chaos, death, relationships, strength - ranging from sheer horror (with regards to the conditions the people have no choice but to experience) to odd moments of utter delight. But the bit that hit me like a bolt was a page towards the end: I guarantee you will never thing about a glass of water in the same way again.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A wonderfully written and extremely different book. For a start no one has a name. Everyone is described as - for example, the first blind man, the first blind man's wife, the... Read morePublished 4 days ago by Four Violets
A classic of its genre. Can be challenging read due to its structure but worth the effort!Published 4 months ago by FDouglas
Gift for my husband, who enjoyed it immensely. He is going to look for other books by this author.Published 6 months ago by Judith Shepherd
Beautiful writing, even though I thought I'd see where it was going it was still filled with uncomfortable tension. Great descriptions of humanity, fear, courage and love. Read morePublished 7 months ago by PK
Yes, this book is a sort of literary zombie movie... a plague of sudden, infectious blindness sweeps through the population and order breaks down. It's gripping, and disturbing. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Reading Reader
Started so well then never lived up to its promise. If you want to read a book about a contagion of blindness, read The Day of the Triffids.Published 7 months ago by William Aslan