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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 doctor's wife. As in The Day of the Triffids people are struck blind, but this book is far more savage and we only encounter one person who can see - the doctor's wife. When the epidemic of blindness spreads she struggles to keep a small group of people alive when they are interned. The epidemic takes over the whole city with horrific consequences, anarchy, murder, feral gangs, rape and starvation follow in a very short time.

The book also has minimal punctuation so that it takes a while to get used to and also sometimes to work out who is speaking. But it works and in fact the writing is wonderful. It could be read on many different levels, as an allegory or parable, there are many biblical references throughout, blindness of course is often used as a metaphor. There is one startling scene with the doctor, his wife and a prostitute which makes one think of the situation being an eye opener - the doctor's wifes' eyes were opened to her husband - I think if I re-read the book I would see many more allusions and themes such as redemption, human relationships, and altruisim versus selfishness.

Of course the book is harrowing, in a way I was putting off reading it, but ultimately it is uplifting and I am intrigued to know there is a sequel, Seeing. Blindness was made into a film in 2007.
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on 23 March 2017
A good friend suggested that this would be a topical read, as the social stability we've always taken for granted has started to look horribly fragile lately. However, I must confess that the first page, with its unsettling lack of establishing viewpoint and its deliberately odd punctuation, had me thinking that I'd be struggling through a 'worthy but difficult' allegory.

I needn't have worried. Yes, it's a thought-provoking allegory, but it's also a page-turner. The style plunges you into the heads - and the terrifying predicament - of the protagonists. The lack of familiar punctuation to give shape to the sentences and the dialogue, like the lack of names for the characters, is all part of an immersive experience that leaves you, like them, groping around the story, trying to get your bearings, fearful of what you're not seeing and what you're about to stumble onto. And it works. It's like having an intelligent conversation while binge-watching The Walking Dead.
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on 30 April 2017
The more of Jose Saramago's work I read the more I love them. This one is not as difficult a read as others and it was an intriguing tale of how the modern world can collapse when people start going blind. The blind are rounded up and quarantined with the first part of the book a tale of how the survivors cope left on their own and locked away.
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on 5 September 2017
Now, this is old school. Inside the heads of people who find themselves thrown together in the most challenging of circumstances. Names and appearance don't matter when you suddenly can't see. Something more fundamental takes over. A truly interesting book.
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on 16 August 2017
A good story, spoiled for me by the style of writing.
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on 28 August 2017
Brilliant book. A very different read and 'food for thought'.
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on 7 April 2008
This is the novel which suits Saramago's prose style to a tee. Using only commas and full-stops, no paragraph breaks for speech, and only referring to characters with descriptive labels ("the woman in dark glasses" etc), Saramago paints a chaotic and nightmarish vision of an unnamed city thrown into an unholy mess by an epidemic of blindness: white blindness. The afflicted are rounded up and shipped into a disused mental asylum where they are quarantined and left to defend for themselves. What unfolds is a sequence of terrifying events as the blind struggle to cope with the unprecedented contagion. People are dying, sanitation is horrendous, a gang of blind thugs run riot, and yet amidst all the confusion and hopelessness one woman can still see. Slowly and secretly she influences the break-out. Will the world outside the asylum's walls be the world they left behind before the outbreak of the white blindness? - This is a gripping read: a powerful, shocking and brutally honest portrayal of human nature in an extreme situation.
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on 29 December 2011
In a way this book is in two parts, the first part set in the asylum where we mostly follow the people on 'Ward1' which contains the doctor and his wife. Here we follow how the inmates cope with not only being suddenly blind but also living in unfamiliar surroundings as the place gets more and more crowded and some of the inmates get more and more sadistic.

The second part of the book is what happens when the asylum is burned down and the inmates suddenly find themselves outside and although free they realise that what happened in the asylum has in many ways mirrored the outside world. The author here has created a society descending into complete ciaos but also has to take into account what would happen if everyone went suddenly blind. For example when you leave your house to go look for food how will you find your way back? If you lose your loved ones how will you find them? On the other hand would you be prepared to kill if you were threatened or would you steal food to feed yourself if that meant other people would starve?

I found myself caring a great deal about all the inmates in the asylum, this might be because at first they are incredibly vulnerable. None of the characters are given names so its the 'doctors wife' or 'girl with dark glasses' as names cease to matter to the blind. Sometimes the narrative overlaps so you don't know who said what, this is done is some of the parts of the book where there is a crowd. Again this is very clever as to these blind people, it doesn't matter who said certain things just that they were said. Some of the sentences did seem REALLY long with commas where full stops should be, but this really is a minor quibble and should not put anyone off reading this book.
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on 4 June 2008
I read this book after it was highly recommended to me by a good friend and i can honestly say it's up there with the best books I've ever read. It takes a while to get used to the writing style of different authors but with Saramago this is even more the case because of the way he avoids the use of punctuation etc. This can seem a bit confusing at times, but it does nothing but heighten the confusion felt my the blind condition of the population so it works a lot better than it sounds. There is a movie of the film due out any time soon and from the trailer I would say it's nigh-on spot on to the images the book conjured in my minds eye, which is no mean feat.

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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 July 2015
The 1997 Nobel Laureate for Literature, the Portuguese writer José Saramago, 1922-2010, did not set out to win over readers. His idiosyncratic style is a continuous block of text with only occasional paragraphs, long sentences, minimal punctuation, changes from first to third person, repetition and frequent interjections and comments on the action by the narrator. Although the book is divided into chapters, each typically 15-20 pages, it is over 300 pages long and so represents a considerable barrier to the enquiring reader. Are publishers at liberty to alter a writer’s style to make it more accessible, I wonder?

Published in 1995, the translation is by Giovanni Pontiero, 1932-96, who died before completing the task, subsequently fulfilled by Margaret Jull Costa. Very soon this translation engages the reader’s interest and Saramago’s literary hurdles are significantly lessened.

The opening is dramatic as a motorist is struck down with blindness at a busy cross roads. As the driver says ‘it’s as if I were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.’ Soon the condition is spreading across the unnamed city, although the means of transmission and aetiology baffle medical specialists. The book centres on one group of people, including the driver, who are amongst the earliest to be affected. These are simply referred to as ‘the doctor’, ‘the girl with dark glasses’ and ‘the old man with the black eyepatch’, ‘the boy with the squint’. The reader is forced to imagine, ‘see’, these characters rather than being able to read their descriptions.

‘The doctor’s wife’ is the only character unaffected but she joins her husband when the Government quarantine those affected, their relatives and contacts in an empty mental asylum, guarded by soldiers who, understandably, are on the verge of panic.

At first the detainees band together to make their situation more bearable. However, as numbers increase there is an insufficient and increasingly irregular supply of food, no medicines and water, and sanitary conditions deteriorate. Saramago and his translator capture this disintegration wonderfully. Before long a group of thugs take over the food supply and order detainees to give up their valuables in return for food; then they demand that women come forward as sex slaves to ‘buy’ food for themselves and their menfolk.

The only news of the outside comes from a short-lived radio that describes government action, increasing numbers of people affected and airline crashes. Conditions deteriorate further leading to a revolt against the abusers and the asylum is set alight. When the inmates attempt to leave they find that the soldiers have deserted their posts and the doors are open.

The final part of the book sees the group finding their way back to the city and their homes, and trying to eke out an existence in the midst of marauding gangs, ransacked buildings, crashed vehicles, dead bodies and human and animal excrement. In the most chilling of many such scenes, Saramago takes us inside a church where every statue and portrait has had its eyes bound up or painted over.

Against this dystopic background, the author lays bare the most intense human emotions. Within the asylum, bodies have become covered in all manner of filth and excrement, but rain now offers the opportunity of physical and spiritual decontamination, as the narrator says ‘perhaps we have judged them wrongly, or perhaps we are unable to see this the most beautiful and glorious thing that has happened in the history of the city, a sheet of foam flows …. if only I could go with it, falling interminably, clean, purified, naked.'

The doctor’s wife, with her sight, is central to the story’s development and conclusion and her regular internal battles as to whether to admit to her non-blindness are only too easy to understand. This is a visceral dystopian book, describing the disintegration of society within and beyond the mental asylum but full of compassion and understanding of the human condition, ‘If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.’ It is not an easy read and skipping sections obviates the author’s careful building up of a story that involves rape and murder, jealousy, heroism, cowardice, violence and despair. However, the patience that is expended on reading this book is more than repaid.
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