Author: José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Publisher: Vintage, Penguin Random House.
Publication date: Vintage editions 4th April 2013 (originally 1995)
Paperback: 320 pages
Where to read this book? I love Portugal and it was in a bookshop in Lisbon where I discovered this book, so if you can, read it in Portugal. If not then anywhere beautiful and outdoors, the contents are extremely claustrophobic.
Refreshments: This story doesn’t inspire eating. However, to get through it you may want to sit down with a stiff drink, when in Lisbon I discovered they make the best G&T’s so that was my tipple of choice.
A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An opthamologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading throughout the city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the afflicted into a mental asylum where the wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.
No food, no water, no government, no obligation, no order. This is not anarchy, this is blindness.
The speed in which the story descends into a dark and chilling account of basic human instinct and survival of the fittest mentality was surprisingly and extremely disturbing. This book is not for the faint hearted.
Blindness spreads like a plague and the governments’ response is to remove and contain those afflicted. Rounded up and placed in an old psychiatric institution that is guarded by the army the individuals suffer the inhumanity that only real fear inspires.
As a reader we follow the original group of about eight individuals, including the first blind man and his wife, his eye doctor and his wife and those present that day in the same doctors surgery. It is through the doctors wife, whose eyesight is the only to remain in tact for reasons we can assume is due to her unwavering commitment to stay with her husband, that we are offered a portal into the descent into utter chaos.
During the beginning of their process of internment I was angry at the government who all but abandon them to a fate worse than death, broadcasting rules over a loud-speaker every day. Reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, they are advised that no one is there to help. It is during these first days that the human spirit endures and bonds are formed as a hierarchy is established amongst the blind formed on their individual strengths.
One of the lasting and more poignant relationships is between a blind old man and a beautiful young blind girl, lessons of superficiality are key in this sub plot.
As you are lead into the second half of the book you realise the shift in gear, this is not for the faint hearted. In fact it should come with a warning. The emergence of an alpha male sect as the institution becomes overburdened is amongst the darkest and most disturbing reflection of humanity. We, as a reader, are presented with the stark reality and truth of people’s ability to act, in the grossest possible way, to a fellow human being when one thinks they cannot be seen or identified.
This is one of the best books I’ve read. At times it wasn’t easy to read and sometimes it was the stuff of nightmares but it was definitely worth it and I will certainly be seeking out more translated works of José Saramago.
Rating: 10 out of 10