Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Readings: Blindness

Blindness (Harvest Book) by Jose Saramago

Blindness is one of those works that leave you unsettled. That's the power of genius, to take the stuff of nightmares and craft it into a story that has no answers, and yet goes so deep that it wins the Nobel for literature.

As the title suggests, the main theme running through the novel is indeed blindness, the physical kind. What would happen if suddenly and without reason, people started losing their sight one by one? Healthy or otherwise, young or old, it spares no-one in this merciless world. I can hardly imagine anything more frightening. 

I will admit the first two pages had me doubtful for a few reasons. First, run-on sentences. Two, no quotation marks, just commas. And no names for any character. But all these quickly became just technicalities, a flourish rather than a gimmick. Indeed it contributed to the devastatingly clinical tone of the narrator himself. By page five, I had to wonder how I had never even heard of the author Jose Saramago, before. (There are so many occasions to feel ashamed of one's ignorance.)

The story, then. It slowly becomes apparent that the blindness, the 'white sickness' as named by the government, is contagious. Quarantine is the solution for the first few dozens afflicted. But then the sickness marches on so rapidly that soon the quarantine becomes a hazardous zone, in fact a living hell that claims many lives. But, and this is the guiding light of the narrative, there is one among the blind who can still see. Her peculiar position and her behavior, her agonies which are unique and separated from all around her, form a major part of the emotional jigsaw that is Blindness.

Chilling and pitiless, this is not a ride for the faint of heart. If I were younger, would I have submerged myself so deeply in the horror so plainly presented? I don't know. But Blindness finds slim glimpses of beauty in terror, almost-imperceptible humor in nightmare, and somehow speaks so many truths while giving no answers that I think it transcends age. You just need to be open enough to take a peek at one genius investigation into what has to be a universal nightmare. Don't even expect neatly tied up reasoning or major plot. Blindness is beyond that. 

Read it, and be thankful you have sight. (Somewhat shame-facedly, I admit I wonder if this book is available in Braille.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haunting...just your review made me appreciate my sight. You're a brilliant writer

My three favorite lines were:

There are so many occasions to feel ashamed of one's ignorance. (this was brilliant)
Don't even expect neatly tied up reasoning or major plot. Blindness is beyond that.
Somewhat shame-facedly, I admit I wonder if this book is available in Braille.

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