The premise of this book was amazingly done. Jose Saramago’s blindness is about an unknown city where one day, someone suddenly goes blind.
Its not the normal blindness however, he sees only a milky white. And soon it is found that it is contagious. In the beginning days the people going blind are rounded up and put into an old insane asylum in hopes that the contagion will not spread. There they become the nameless, only known by what they once were like a taxi driver, or a girl with dark glasses.
While there, only one person, an Opthamalogist’s wife, still retains the ability to see. She pretends to be blind to stay with her husband and as the asylum gets fuller she helps those in her area. The biggest fear is the guards outside who prevent anyone from leaving, by force if necessary.
Another obstacle is a blind man with a gun and the members of his ward. Holding hostage the food, he demands valuables, and eventually women in exchange for not starving. Even the seeing woman must bow to his wishes so that he does not shoot anyone. The scenes in this area of the book are very graphic. There is no hesitation in describing bodily functions, rape, and violence.
Trying to survive the worse extremes and filth, the group in the Doctor’s wife’s ward stick together until then end. A fire at the asylum allows everyone to leave, but the world they return to is not the world they left. Most everyone around is blind and with no running water or electricity, the streets are filthy and full of excrement. People rove around searching for food and attacking those who might even have a small piece of moldy bread.
It is up to the one seeing person to lead her group to safety and try to ensure that they don’t all die of disease or starvation.
While I loved the idea of this book, I was very turned off by the writing. I’ve seen it described that reading his writing was very much like being blind and trying to see. That he was trying to bring you in to the blind person’s world, and for that he won a Nobel prize. My thought is that his writing is very much like an artist creating a masterpiece, and then covering it with a sheet in the exhibition. While it might be clever to do something like that, what is the world missing by not being able to see the true work of art? I found myself skimming several lines at a time just because of the lack of breaks and paragraphs. I could handle the different people all talking at once with no designators for the most part, but the lack of paragraphs killed this book for me.
Overall I’d say that this book was just average for me. I would have enjoyed it a great deal more if it were easier to read. Wonderful idea, not so wonderful execution.