"A city is struck by an epidemic of "white blindness." Authorities confine the blind to a vacant mental hospital secured by armed guards under instructions to shoot anyone trying to escape. Inside, the criminal element among the blind holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers--among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears--through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twientieth century, Blindness is a powerful portrayal of man's worst appetites and weaknesses--and man's ultimately exhilarating spirit"--P.  of cover.
So with all that history, I'm sure it's not too surprising that I was dreading this book. In fact, I was looking forward to it the way I'd look forward to having several teeth pulled without the benefit of local anaesthetic. Funny how anticipation colours so much of what we read. Expect to love a book to bits, and you're more often than not let down. Expect a book to take you to the depths of hell and despair, and you end up feeling like life, when you take a good look around and it's a beautiful sunny autumn day with a loving puppy by your side... really is generally really really good. I guess I just took it all as a parable and all the ugliness didn't phase very much because, I'm sorry to say it, but all too often, seen behind the veil of clinical depression that is my cross to bear, that is sort of the way I view humanity. I liked The Dog of Tears a lot and felt he brought an element of whimsy to the whole thing. And I loved the doctor's wife. Absolutely adored her. She seriously kicked ass and didn't let all the horrors get the better of her, though all the while she suffered through it and had what seemed like very genuine feelings and reactions. Somehow I was able to identify with her perfectly, which might be a bit brazen on my part; I haven't seen the movie, but the cover image of the audiobook shows the movie cast and I was imagining Julianne Moore the whole time, whom I of course ADORE. So yes, a bit presumptuous on my part to compare myself to that incredible lady. The ending was a complete surprise, so that really, the feeling I'm left with is similar to the feeling I had today; waking up grumpy, tired, having had strange and disturbing dreams and not wanting to engage with life and whatever obligations I had, only to discover that really, when you're able to really look around and SEE the world around you, there is so much beauty there to be found. And though my eyes and inner vision all too often make me see the ugliness and depravity that inhabits the human psyche, I'm also able to fly with the wind and ride on soft, cottony clouds and feel on top of the world because I've got a loving puppy who also licks my tears when I cry, which makes it all ok. All the same, I'm not recommending this book unless you're willing to look at the underbelly of humanity and accept that it is just as real as the sky above and the trees and the sunshine and laughter and forgetting.
I do realize this can't really be considered as a useful review, but there are plenty of those here I'm sure.
What makes this novel a bit different that most of this type is the way Saramago uses literary devices to draw the reader into the world of the blind. Individuals are not named; all are simply described by their role in the story..."the doctor's wife" or "the first man who went blind". Nor are they visually described except when being looked at by a sighted person who is actually concentrating on the way they look. We don't even know their nationality, though slight cultural clues would lead one to think western Europe. This gives everything a hazy overcast; we can't quite bring our identification into sharp focus.
Most notably, you can only tell who is speaking through concentration; you cannot tell who is speaking simply by looking for the usual visual clues we get in reading. There are no quotation marks; in fact, question marks and other punctuation beyond commas and periods are gone. Nor is dialog broken in paragraphs—a verbal interchange is almost always represented as a single, long sentence, with only capital letters and the rare "he said" to clue the reader that the voice is changing. For example, picking up in the middle of a conversation that has been going on:
..., How have you managed since the outbreak of the epidemic, We came out of internment only three days ago, Ah, you were in quarantine, Yes, Was it hard, Worse than that, How horrible, You are a writer, you have, as you said a moment ago, an obligation to know words, therefore you know that adjectives are of no use to use, if a person kills another, for example, it would better to state this fact openly, directly, and to trust that the horror of the act, in itself, is so shocking that there is no need for us to say it was horrible, Do you mean that we have more words than we need, I mean that we have too few feelings, Or that we have them but have ceased to use the words they express, And so we lose them, I'd like you to tell me how you lived during quarantine, Why, I am a writer, You would have to have been there, A writer is just like anyone else, he cannot know everything, nor can he experience everything, he must ask and imagine, One day I may tell you what it was like, then you can write a book, Yes, I am writing it, How, if you are blind, The blind too can write, You mean that you had time to learn the braille alphabet, I do not know braille, How can you write, then, asked the first blind man, Let me show you.
This is disconcerting at first, opaque and confusing, but you quickly learn to find other clues, "listening" intently to the threads of the conversation. I went from my usual dislike of an author who eschews quotes (it irked me, for example, in Solstad's Shyness and Dignity) to thinking it made this book work as well as it did.
It's easy to read this story as allegory for any one of a number of events of our times. However, it's not necessary to do so...the story is gripping enough to be read simply for its own sake, whether as political commentary or distopian science fiction.
Though I would not be comfortable saying this is one of the 10 Best Books of the Century (as I've heard some opine), I definitely give it a strong recommendation. I shall certainly avoid the movie for fear of spoiling it.
Review: I only got about 40% of the way through this book before I had to give it up. While I understand the point Saramago was trying to make about the fragility of society's rules and the more unpleasant aspects of human nature, the story was just too grim and too bleak for me. I don't require my literature to be all rainbows and puppies and people hugging all of the time; I'm capable of dealing with unpleasant topics and characters and behaviors. However, this book just felt like people being hopelessly, unrelentingly horrible to each other, and after a certain point, it stops feeling like examining the nastier side of human nature, and starts feeling like wallowing in the nastier side of human nature, which is not something I particularly enjoy. (Particularly when several people told me that I wasn't even to the *really* horrible parts of the book yet. No thank you.)
I had been listening to the audiobook, since lack of proper punctuation and undelineated dialogue annoys the heck out of me, and I'm more than happy to let the audiobook narrator do the heavy lifting of deciding who's speaking, and where the sentence breaks should be. After the horribleness got to be too much for me to listen to, I picked up the paper copy... for about two pages, until I came across three pages in a row with no paragraph breaks. Sorry; I'm sure this is a fine book of Serious Allegory and High Literary Merit, but it's just not for me.
Recommendation: Only for those whose tolerance levels for people being horrible to each other are a lot higher than mine.
The blurb on the back cover describes it as a “parable of loss and disorientation and a vivid evocation of the horrors of the twentieth century.” I was so focused on the plight of the seven main characters (who have to deal with the complete breakdown of their society) that it wasn’t until towards the end of the book that I started to look at the bigger picture.
In fact, it was actually while listening to an NPR interview with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times reporter, who was talking about “compassion fatigue,” that a larger interpretation of the book came into focus for me (i.e. people being “blind” to the horrors of the 20th century). Kristof talked about how most people become overwhelmed at the idea of helping more than one person at a time with the result that events like the Darfur crisis are seemingly ignored by many people (i.e. they become “blind” to what is happening). Kristof also talked about how many of the people who lived during the 1930s and 40s said they didn’t know about the Holocaust. Research suggests, however, that even if more people had known about it, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
"Blindness" can be an unsettling book to read. With few exceptions, people revert to their baser instincts and it is “every man for himself.” If not for a leader who can see, the main characters would be lost. There is alot that is not explained but the ambiguity forces you to think about what the story means and as a result you find yourself thinking about it long after you’ve finished. 4 stars.
Yet, after the epidemic has spread, the book falls into a lull of the same patterns repeating over and over with barely enough change to keep the reader drawn in. Also, the fact that not a single character had a proper name REALLY bothered me. I kept losing track of which character was which and none of the characters really had any meaning.
I did, however, enjoy the fact that the novel made one feel nervous and emotional about how the world would be if this epidemic happened in real life. The book was scary at times and made me evaluate my own life. Therefore, there were many philosophical aspects to the book that I did enjoy. I still wouldn't recommend it though...
There is excessive/rapid/unbelievable character personality development - i.e. the "car thief" went from car thief (and we are told specifically that he only stole cars) to wannabe rapist in about 3 scenes. Is this supposed to be thief = rapist or blind = rapist? Either way, it is ridiculous.
There are several tangents - i.e. each person tells what they saw before they went blind - one guy goes on and on about art pieces he saw - who cares? What does this artistic tangent have to do with progressing the story? Nothing. But I suspect it makes the author look intelligent.
There is a scene around winding a watch - not only do we not wind watches, how could anyone who has had nothing to do for 3 days forget to wind her watch? What else was she doing that distracted her from this? - oh, right, the blind spent their days pooping in their beds. Yes, we are expected to believe that the blind defecate in their own beds because, well... I am not sure the author's point. I read scifi a lot and am very used to suspending disbelief - I can accept that a post-apocalyptic world would be "strongest survive", or martial rule where infractions mean death. But human kind, sighted or not, will not defecate in their own beds. Period.
I do understand that this is not meant to be a book about real people and real blindness anymore than Stephen King's books are about real happenings but - even keeping in mind that I really wanted to like this story - ultimately it tries WAY too hard to be "artsy"/moralistic. I don't need to be thumped on the head to "get it".
The author seems to have an adolescent boy's delight in describing violent sex scenes. The author idealizes the women who sacrifice everything for the men. He uses the stereotypes of the all-understanding and forgiving wife; the woman who sacrifices her life to save the village; the prostitute with the heart of gold.
The references to Milton's Paradise Lost just emphasize how far short Blindness fall from greatness. Paradise Lost describes a great battle in heaven, and then man's fall from grace. Despite the downward trajectory, Paradise Lost invokes a nobility in man, and gives one a sense of higher aspirations despite a fallen nature. The battle in the asylum, invokes Paradise Lost by describing an opposite situation--a battle in Hell. The asylum is obviously meant to be Hell (complete with fire and "archangels" p.184). The battle results in the release of the inmates from their hellish surroundings, and eventually their redeemed sight. However, despite its apparent positive trajectory, the reader is left only with feelings of disgust and despair about the human condition.
Books that make his points with better storytelling ability are Camus' The Plague, and Goldings' Lord of the Flies.
This book is just scatological and pornographic.
Saramago's prose takes a bit of adjusting to -- like McCarthy, he doesn't use quote marks, and his punctuation is a bit idiosyncratic. But it didn't annoy me as much as McCarthy's did -- this is a book about blindness, about losing sight (and self), so I felt the blurring between utterances, the whole 'who said what' felt like an accurate reflection of what was going on. Lots of commas and fullstops, but I think that may have been the only marks used. Lots of questions with no question marks -- again, it fits. These are people asking questions that they don't expect to have answered, so it works to have them written down that way.
There are some pretty horrible things depicted, but the magical realism feel to it all allows the horrors to be spoken of but not wallowed in, if that makes sense. The narrator's voice touches on thngs like rape and murder and pillage gently, even compassionately. Not making light of them; or avoiding mentioning them. But not making a fetish out of them either, which is a nice change. You see (a word that gets a lot of weight added to it) because it is right that thgs be witnessed. But you are kept at a slight distance from it all -- the characters being protected from the readers, or the readers protected from the characters, perhaps -- it's a very interesting and skillful technique.
It's not an easy book, or a nice one. But it's also not brutal or horrible, although it considers brutal and horrible things. The reason people read (and should read) dystopian fiction is because it makes us confront the darker sides of humanity, makes us ask ourselves the questions that we don't want to face. This book is a surprisingly effective, almost beautiful example of good dystopian fiction. Well (if a bit strangely) written, and very humane, as well as human. Not a comfortable read, but an important one.
Blindness is the story of what happens to a city when its inhabitants are suddenly, without any explanation, struck blind. At first the government tries to quarantine the victims to prevent the anomaly from spreading, but that only serves to land those already suffering into the ninth circle of hell.
Dante comes to mind quite often when reading the chapters dealing with the internment of the sightless citizens, as does The Plague by Albert Camus. Saramago repeatedly strips away the thin veneer of civilization to show us the animals lurking right beneath the first few layers of dirt and skin.
I’m guessing that Julianne Moore is playing the wife of an ophthalmologist who was one of the first to lose his vision. When the government comes to take her husband away, she claims that she has also been struck. This gives the doctor and the small band of internees that surround her the advantage once they reach the former asylum, but the doctor’s wife is cursed to witness the horrors and degradation that await them all regardless.
If anyone could pull this off, perhaps it is Meirelles. His City of God was a masterpiece and depicted the slums of Rio de Janeiro unflinchingly—yet at the same time found real beauty among the garbage and squalor. I’ll still bet that he has chosen to scale down the utter sewer that the world of Saramago’s novel becomes in no time at all.
My one problem with the movie’s casting is that the doctor’s wife is supposed to be very plain looking. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when the other women tell her how beautiful she is, having never seen her with their own eyes—it is her inner beauty they recognize. I can’t imagine that scene having the same impact when it’s Julianne Moore, even when caked in human feces (or not).
This book is a study of what happens when our precious civilization is stripped away and people are forced to resort to their most animalistic state to survive. It's like Lord of the Flies with adults. The writing is beautiful and though you're reading about some intensely disturbing situations, Saramago writes in a way that makes sure you can't look away. He gives his characters no names, only descriptions (i.e. Girl with the Dark Glasses), which gives the story a feeling of anonymity. This could be anyone, in any town.
The most horrific aspect of the story is the fact that one of the main characters can still see. Everyone thinks she's blind, but she lied so she could stay with her husband and take care of him. Because of this, individuals don't disguise their actions around her and she can see everything that is really happening. The book is equal parts profound and disturbing.
**One note on the text. It's written in a way that can be a bit confusing. The dialogue is written in paragraphs, rarely noting who is speaking. It looks a bit like this: "How are you? I'm fine. Has work been busy? Yes, we have a new client." So you need to pay close attention to who is speaking in order to follow the characters trains of thought. If you're an audiobook listener I would highly recommend the audio read by Jonathan Davis. He has slightly different inflections for each of the characters, which makes it easy to follow.
The first part of the novel is riveting. I want to know what's going to happen. I understand why there's chaos in the mental asylum where the blind are quarantined. However, once the group of "friends" escapes the asylum, I was bored almost to tears. I was so disappointed with the ending.
I also don't understand why Saramago believes that mass blindness would remove the need for people having names. People would still want to identify themselves and those they were associated with. I would want to know my friends and foes. If you're calling to each other, a description isn't convenient. "hey, girl with the dark glasses (dark glasses I never saw and can't see now because we met after I went blind, so I don't even know you wear them) follow my voice so we can find each other and move to another place to find food." I would want to call her by a name and would want to be called by my name. I think most people would.
And if people are staying together in groups, wouldn't most of them try to have some kind of order instead of defecating any and everywhere? Animals keep their toilet and food separate. Why would we be different even if we went blind. Otherwise all kinds of illness would be rampant. Welcome e coli! Hasten us to our deaths to relieve us of our blindness!
Anyway, I have more faith in humanity, I guess. I don't understand why the previously blind, meaning before the white blindness, don't rise to power and start teaching or leading others in their community in how to maneuver through the city, to read, etc. There are many independent blind people on Earth already. Do the "regular" blind people keep their names? Or do they find them unnecessary because everyone is blind?
Enough with the criticism. I'm glad others found some existential meaning in the book. The first part was very interesting. I found the latter half too unbelievable to enjoy.
This book cries out for discussion, but I would not recommend it to any book that prefers uplifting, ladylike books. It is harrowing and graphic. I had tears in my eyes at one point, not from sadness exactly but from...horror, I guess. As for the writing style, Saramago employs run-on sentences in long paragraphs, with dialog set off only by quotation marks, so it is sometimes hard to puzzle out who is speaking. I've mentioned before that I find the lack of quotation marks a distancing device, but that was not the case here. The writing creates the kind of disorientation that the newly blind might be experiencing.
My brief and untutored review can't do justice to a book that demands more analysis. I'm still thinking about it.
Only one woman, only known as the doctor’s wife, can still see and is witness to this event.
She, her husband, the first blind man and later his wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the quint, the man with the eyepatch are all placed in a ward in an asylum by the government as are the rest of the suddenly blind at the beginning of the novel. The groups are separated into different wards: the people who have been exposed to the blindness and the actual blind, separated by a foyer and the gates to reenter the city are guarded by soliders who have orders to shoot anyone trying to escape at their discretion.
Within the gates of the asylum, it is a whole other world. I think one of the turning points in this first half is the shooting of a number of the blind as they are waiting for their food to be delivered by the soliders. One of the soldiers panics, thinking they are trying to escape, and shoots. Then all the soldiers shoot.
A number of the inmates (the leader with a gun) from another ward begin to terrorize the main characters by holding back food and making them “pay” for their food with any valuables they had with them (all their belongings) and then by raping the women.
I think the realization the government was not going to interfere with anything that happened in the asylum was the line drawn in the sand. With no repercussions, the criminal element was alble to gain control over the society in the asylum by fear.
For the first half of the novel, I was riveted to the text. Sure, people have debated Saramago’s style of writing back and forth–his giant run-on sentences with no tagged dialogues definitively marked and paragraphs encompassing pages and pages. It took a bit of adjustment–but, once I did, the writing added another dimension to the story. It added confusion, disorientation, and a need to pay closer attention to detail for the reader. And, in these three areas alone, the writing itself was magnificient.
I read fast. Well, I read popular fiction fast anyway. By the way this book was written, I had to slow down and pay attention to every word, who was speaking, who was acting. And I honestly liked the effect Saramago’s style had on the book.
For the first half of it, as I said.
Then the “inmates leave the asylum.” Outside the gates, the city has fallen to pieces–the blind are wandering about, identity-less as well as homeless. They have all decided, because they are blind, names are of no consequence. With their eyesight left their individual identities.
It seems as though everyone has panicked and society breaks down. Property rights have disappeared–the blind move in wherever they can as they can’t find their ways home.
We stop by the old flats where our characters lived before the blindness to discover the places are either occupied by others or in complete disarray. The world is dirty, filthy–the blind “do their business” in the streets without a care as to cleanliness.
I do not think people would give up their self-identity because they are blind. And while Saramago says that there is a piece within us that has no-name, I think the larger piece of us keeps us as separate identities. I AM Kari Wolfe. And while I am a part of the world, I still retain my own identity. My name is what identifies ME to others and, while it could be any name, this is the name I was given by my parents, the ones who created me.
While there are some beautifully written scenes within this half, I am pulled out of the fictional world because it’s not realistic. If everyone within a city was to suddenly be struck blind, would society totally collapse in on itself? Honestly, I doubt it.
Saramago’s lack of belief in human beings is disheartening.
Jose Saramago received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.
A recent novel adds appreciably to Saramago’s literary stature. It was published in 1995 and has the title “Blindness: a novel”. Its omniscient narrator takes us on a horrific journey through the interface created by individual human perceptions and the spiritual accretions of civilisation. Saramago’s exuberant imagination, capriciousness and clear-sightedness find full expression in this irrationally engaging work. “Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”
I have to admit–I really wasn’t that impressed.
2 stars out of 5. The story had possibility then descended into a chaotic mess, a story with no boundaries to hold it in.
I was prepared not to like the unstructured writing style, but found it did not bother me at all. The audio (I listened to parts of it as I drove and swam so I didn't have to 'put the book down') was incredibly done.
I could see that studying this book and all its complexities could easily take up an entire semester course. The device of not naming the characters but instead describing them (in spite of the blindness meaning no one could "see" that the girl had dark glasses for instance) was very effective in using these characters as representatives of entire groups of humanity while at the same time maintaining their individuality.
I am still trying to decide whether I found the ending of the book a satisfying one.
This sense of despair is the central theme to Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago's novel, Blindness.
A group of blind people become allies during quarantine at a government facility guarded by soldiers. Within the facility, lawlessness rules over organization, and this band of blinded victims, led by a woman who fakes her blindness so she could stay with her husband, must steal, murder and endure sexual assault to survive these horrible conditions.
Blindness will leave you breathless in parts and exacerbated in others. Translated from Portuguese, the novel is written with run-on dialogues (with no quotation marks or attributions), extremely long paragraphs (some of which take up the entire page) and stream of consciousness writing. Once you get used to the writing style, the novel will leave you wondering: "What would I do if I suddenly became blind?"
I believe Blindness is a social commentary of how "blind" people are even when they can see. Blinded, no one could distinguish between different races, economic classes or intellect. A chamber maid and a doctor are now on the same playing field. With the absence of "normal" distinctions, new ones emerge. Those with food, with weapons, with a place to stay. And those who have nothing - not even hope that they will recover from their sudden blindness.
Readers who enjoyed The Road or other dystopian tales will find Blindness to be enjoyable, exhilarating and gripping. Overall, I am glad to have been introduced to this imaginative piece of Portuguese literature.
The most interesting thing for me was the realization of how fast society would actually unravel should we all wake up blind one day - nobody to grow food, put out fires, take away trash, heal the sick, or fix broken toilets. Of course, most of us have at one time or another closed our eyes and imagined being blind, but it isn't as frightening when you know that it's not a permanent state. I think it would be as bad for the blind who live in our seeing world now - they can ask someone for assistance if they need, but if nobody is there to assist, what then? I was impressed with how Saramago made this horrific world come to life.
It reminded me of books I've read about Jewish ghettos during WWII in that regular people, no matter their previous status or social class are forced to live together and you never know beforehand who will turn out to be evil or good or a coward or a hero. For something so inherently bleak, though, I was delighted to see that there was, in all the misery, a lot of love and affection. It's also quietly funny in places, which I had not expected and, yes, I did actually laugh out loud a few times. A very thought-provoking read that I know will stay with me a long time and which has placed Saramago high on my list of authors to seek out.
Accepting his Nobel prize, Saramago said that he "wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures." Something to think about, right?
Don't like the male point of view, even with the strong woman lead, women go meekly to the rape, men don't mind too much, heroine feels guilty about a deserved murder.
Don't like the non-existence of any explanation for the malady-EVER. WTF????
Don't believe people would treat each other this way at the outset. Maybe as fear and panic took over, but not right away.
Have to say Book Group discussion modified my views somewhat. So this gets 2 stars instead of 1. Won't look for another of his books, though.
HOWEVER, the way the book is written is TERRIBLE. There are no paragraph breaks anywhere, and no quotation marks to denote the start/end of dialogue or the changing of speakers. There are lots of swift back-and-forth conversations with groups of 3 or more people, and the only way to tell when a new person is speaking is with a comma and a capital letter. But there are also commas in the sentences, and sometimes phrases start with "I" which is always capitalized! Then where are you!? I almost gave up on this twice because I was just so frustrated with trying to read the dialogue. I'm sure it's supposed to be some allusion to the chaos and confusion and frustration of becoming blind, but it completely ruined the story for me.
I'm wondering if the sequel is written in the same annoying way. And if Saramago does weird stuff like this in all of his books.
I guess I'm rating this a 3? Five for the story, one for the way it's written.
The above passage is representative of the entire book – both the style, large chunks with no quotation marks with commas usually separating the dialog, and themes, philosophical discussions from an oft-present though unidentified narrator mixed with stark realities of a world in which a contagious white blindness strikes a country. In the dystopian society which develops, a large group is quarantined in an abandoned mental hospital. The characters remain unnamed as does the location. We follow them through gruesome trials and menial tasks. Saramago is a beautiful writer, though I don’t think for everyone. The pace is slow; the narrator frequently interjects pieces of plot information, past or future events, or simply musings. Another example:
“In fact, however reluctant we might be to admit it, these distasteful realities of life also have to be considered, when the bowels function normally, anyone can have ideas, debate, for example, whether there exists a direct relationship between the eyes and feelings, or whether the sense of responsibility is the natural consequence of clear vision, but when we are in great distress and plagued by pain and anguish that is when the animal side of our nature becomes most apparent.”
I enjoyed this very much, and I think it will stay with me for quite some time. Not a comfortable read but a very good one.