Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Finished Blindness by José Saramago, just 448 pages out of the 5,300 page ebook The Collected Novels of José Saramago (which is still just $33 at Powells!). Frequently included on lists of "most disturbing novels," it was pretty disturbing, but not on the level of American Psycho. I'm wondering if anything will be disturbing to me after reading it. Everything else seems a little precious in comparison.

Blindness begins with a man suddenly going blind while driving his car. It's a white blindness, instead of dark, and we soon find it's contagious. Others find themselves going blind as well, and the government quarantines the afflicted together in a mental asylum to contain the 'disease.' Terrified of the sickness, no officials, nurses, or doctors volunteer to live amongst them. The asylum quickly becomes a living hell. Among the hundreds of the newly blind is only one who can see: a curse more than a blessing.

Reading this book will really make you want to shower. The detailed descriptions of filth and odor that permeates their surroundings is pretty nauseating. You can only imagine how quickly conditions would deteriorate when locked in a space with hundreds of people who can't find the bathroom. Or take a bath. I kept picturing the nightmare worlds of Silent Hill. But maybe that's just because I'm playing Silent Hill 2 at the moment. At least Pyramid Head isn't in the book.

What I appreciate most about Saramago's writing is his honesty about how people would react faced with this situation. He presents the worst and the best of humanity. If he had truly set out to write something unabashedly 'extreme' or disturbing, he would've stuck with just the worst. I'm not entirely convinced the government would treat its quarantined citizens in the way depicted here. Then again, Saramago left the location of the city unknown, so who knows how the governments of particular countries would truly react. We all know what happened to Raccoon City (I swear that's my last video game allusion).

The blindness is of course a metaphor, but I'm honestly too lazy to figure out for what. I'm sure it's something profound. It would take a re-read to figure out I think. There's one particular scene in a church where all of the statues and portraits of saints, including Jesus, have blindfolds places over their eyes. The author was practically screaming LOOK AT THIS! THIS MEANS SOMETHING! Big bold neon lights flashing METAPHOR ALERT! But my brain was set on Homer Simpson mode. Ugh, it's probably something like, we didn't truly see each other before and that's why everyone went blind? Something like that. Plus Jesus?

You should read it and figure it out for me. It's really an incredible novel, and deserves a better, more attentive reader than I.

Here are some passages I liked. Saramago's writing style is pretty unique, using very few periods and lots of run-on sentences. It takes a while to get used to (and to figure out who's talking), but ultimately makes for smooth reading.

We all have our moments of weakness, just as well that we are still capable of weeping, tears are often our salvation, there are times when we would die if we did not weep.

There being no witnesses, and if there were there is no evidence that they were summoned to the post-mortems to tell us what happened, it is understandable that someone should ask how it was possible to know that these things happened so and not in some other manner, the reply to be given is that all stories are like those about the creation of the universe, no one was there, no one witnessed anything, yet everyone knows what happened.

Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them coming irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say.


  1. This sounds remarkably better than the movie adaptation. I assumed that the film was an original screenplay, it seemed to empty to ever fill a novel.

    There is, however, a very good film called "Perfect Sense" which deals with a sudden plague of sensory loss. It's pretty cheap on VUDU and Amazon Instant. It's a romantic theme, but still somewhat disturbing by the end.

  2. Yeah I saw the movie adaptation a few years back. The premise sounded really interesting, but it was mostly a dud. Surprising since it was directed by the same guy who made "City of God".

    "Perfect Sense" looks really good. Plus I'll watch anything with Ewan Macgregor in it.