Book Review: Blindness
Editor's Note: Corey read Blindness after reading "Most Influential Fiction Books." As stated there, Blindness is not a book for most readers. Read it with caution. Either way, safely enjoy Corey's review.
"I do not think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see."
Jose Saramago's Blindness is not an easy book to read, much less review, and any attempt on my part to do it justice in a few paragraphs is damned from the Get of Go. My aim is more modest. Finishing this book, for me, was like waking from a long and nerve-wracking but undeniably momentous dream; and in writing I hope to find out what I think of it.
When humanity is stricken with an incurable plague of white blindness, there is no decline of civilization - only a swift and dreadful fall. Saramago traces the aftermath through the groping fingers of a band of nameless refugees, known to us only by various descriptors: the doctor, the man with eye patch, the car thief, and so on. This takes some getting used to, but it is a fitting and even brilliant stylistic decision that reenforces the tragedy of Saramago's world. If characters here tread carefully lest they lose their way, so must we.
Blindness is its own beast, but in reading it I was reminded of two others: McCarthy's The Road, which I have read every year for the last four years; and Lewis' Till We Have Faces, which I recently read for the very first time.
Like McCarthy, Saramago offers little explanation regarding the origin of the cataclysm; he's less concerned with cause than with effect. Like McCarthy, he paints a devastating picture of man cut loose from the feeble restraints of the civilized world. Being civilized has no meaning, after all, when civilization has ceased to exist. If this be all that stands between us and our baser inclinations, what then? What, to borrow Harvey's line in The Dark Knight, does it mean to be decent men in an indecent time?
Like Lewis, Saramago pulls off the rare feat of leaving the reader satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time. Satisfied, because Blindness is a moving and impeccably written odyssey. Dissatisfied, because it is also elusive. Like the dream I mentioned earlier. After finishing Till We Have Faces, I knew it was something special. I just couldn't say why - at least, not in any coherent way. Not at first. Some books take longer than others to germinate in the mind. Blindness is one of those, too.
Postscript: This book is not for everyone. It's not even for most people. Some will be turned off by the peculiar writing style; many more will not want to endure the brutal themes and graphic imagery. Think carefully before picking it up. It's a rewarding read, but a punishing one.