‘Blindness’ by José Saramago is a fable about an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness which has unsurprisingly chaotic consequences. The story begins with a man suddenly going blind as he is waiting in his car at some traffic lights. Several other characters who come into contact with him also lose their sight. The blind are quarantined in a mental asylum and left to fend for themselves but criminals soon gain control as society rapidly breaks down completely. Only the doctor’s wife is still able to see for unknown reasons but she doesn’t reveal this fact. Can she still help the others?
When I first started reading this book, I found it quite hard to concentrate. Initially, I couldn’t tell if it was because of the extremely long paragraphs of densely written prose or because the woman sitting near me on the train was threatening to smash someone’s face in. Normally, I am quite good at blocking out other people’s conversations when I use public transport but this person was particularly loud and scary. Thankfully, when I found myself in a quieter environment, ‘Blindness’ became more enjoyable to read although the long paragraphs of densely written prose still require a fair amount of concentration. Not only that, but none of the characters or settings are ever given real names and the dialogue is written without quotation marks and rarely separated into paragraphs. Remarkably, however, this wasn’t off-putting at all and the story was still reasonably easy to follow which is testament to the strength of Saramago’s writing, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, and also the English translation.
‘Blindness’ is a fascinating and unconventional novel which is simultaneously uplifting and harrowing. The scenario presented to the reader is nightmarish and dystopian to say the least but with occasional moments of hope and joy. ‘Blindness’ is not a particularly easy read but it is very rewarding. Even though the ending was a little too convenient, I don’t think it took anything away from the rest of the story which explored a lot of interesting ideas, most notably the theme of blindness in both its literal and metaphorical senses. An inspiring read.