Monday, April 12, 2010

Matthew, Book Review, *Jose Saramago, *Blindness

Blindness (1995), by Portuguese author Jose Saramago, is a hell of a thing. And I mean that in a Cronenberg, Blood Meridian, oh man is this ever depressing and violent and crushing but I can't stop reading it sort of way.

As the novel begins, an unidentified man suddenly goes blind while driving home from work one day. A few hours thereafter, everyone he came in contact with after the onset of his blindness goes blind, followed by the people they came in contact with, and so on. The affliction spreads quickly, and the government reacts to the crisis by quarantining the blind in an empty mental hospital. The bulk of the novel takes place inside the hospital, where everything goes to hell in pretty much every way you could imagine it would.

Saramago likes to write in long, winding series of clauses spliced together with commas, with dialogue thrown in mid-stream with only a comma and a capital letter to call attention to itself:
In a few minutes, the rescuers reached their destination, they knew it before even coming into contact with the bodies, the blood over which they were crawling was like a messenger coming to tell them, I was life, behind me there is nothing, My God, thought the doctor's wife, all this blood, and it was true, a thick pool, their hands and clothing stuck to the ground as if the floorboards and floor tiles were covered in glue.
Which reminds me, no one is ever given a name in this book. Instead of names, each character is referred to by their job, relationship, or a short physical description, thereby furthering the theme of dehumanization and degradation.

Blindness isn't all doom and gloom, however; even in its darkest moments there seems to be an underlying sense of hope that I don't recall seeing in similarly bleak novels (I'm looking at you, The Trial and Blood Meridian).