Monday, July 2, 2012

"Blindness" by Jose Saramago

326 pages

An epidemic of white blindness sweeps across an unnamed city. The panicked government quarantines the first victims in an abandoned mental hospital in an attempt to contain the outbreak. One woman pretends to be blind so she can stay with her husband. What they find in the quarantine is unspeakable. The victims are basically left to themselves, with only occasional food deliveries, and it doesn't take long for all social order to break down. Rape, assault, and all other forms of violence run rampant. Finally, the seeing woman decides to risk everything to lead her husband and five others out of the hospital. What they don't know is that the outside world has changed more than they could ever have imagined. 

This is one of the most bizarre books I've ever read. I'll start with what I didn't like. First of all, the formatting nearly drove me insane. There is no punctuation and, even worse, no page breaks at all. Just line after line of endless text. It's exhausting to read because it's nearly impossible to keep track of who is talking and there is no break for the eyes. I suppose the author did it this way to make readers feel disoriented like the blind people or something, but it was so tiring and distracting that I almost didn't make it through the whole thing. Also, I'll be honest: I feel like I missed some of the deeper meanings. I mean, I get the illustration of how humans are so fickle and civilization is fragile, with all social order breaking down when things go wrong. I've heard this book described as a metaphor for "the horrors of the 20th century" and I didn't get that part (I hope I'm not making myself look too ignorant here; as a librarian, you'd think I'd be better at this sort of thing). Anyway, I did somehow get sucked into the story, despite all that. The idea of blindness being contagious is unique and totally creepy to me. I came to really care about the characters and I worried about what was going to happen to them. I would have liked more explanation at the end, but it was satisfying nonetheless. I recommend this one for people who enjoy analyzing metaphors (maybe they'll get more out of it than me!), as long as they can get past the annoying format. 

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