Blindness – José Saramago

Translated from the Portugese by Giovanni Pontiero

Blindness is the most powerful book I have ever read. From the beginning, to the end my adrenaline levels were high, and my heart was beating so fast you’d have thought I’d been out running!

Blindness is a terrifying account of what could happen to us, if we were all to lose our sight. The book begins with one man suddenly losing his vision while waitng at traffic lights in his car. Someone offers to help the blind man back home, and it isn’t long before he becomes blind too. It quickly becomes obvious that the blindness is highly contagious, and so all the blind people, and those who have been in close contact with them, are rounded up and sent to an old mental hospital. Trapped in this old building, with an increasing number of people, conditions quickly deteriorate. Fights break out over the small amount of food, sanitation becomes almost non-existent, and it isn’t long before people are dying.

There is one woman who has not gone blind; she lied in order to stay with her husband. At first it seems as though she is the lucky one, but as time goes on this is not necessarily true. Would it be better to be blind than to see the horrors that are all around her?

This book is worryingly realistic. What would our governments do if there was an epidemic of blindness? How quickly would society break down? I thought I’d be able to cope without electricity, but when you stop to think about the infrastructure, you realise how soon you’d run out of food, and water. It’s enough to make me want to move to the country and become self sufficient as soon as possible!

This book took a little bit of time to get used to. The characters are all nameless, and there is little punctuation to break up the paragraphs, so the text is unusually dense. It was, however, completely gripping from beginning to end. I’m not sure I can say that I enjoyed reading it though. It will stay with me for a long time, and is a powerful statement about the fragility of our society, but I’m not sure enjoyable is the right word!

Highly recommended, as long as you can cope with the stress!

José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1998.

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  1. Sandy says:

    I believe they made a movie of this recently, starring a whole cast of who’s who, including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover and Gael Garcia Bernal. I didn’t see it, and I’m not sure it did all that well at the box office, but the trailers were intriguing. I know what you mean by liking the book, but not necessarily enjoying the ride. Sometimes this much terror can be stressful to read!

  2. Margot says:

    The idea of this book is very intriguing but I’m not sure I want it playing in my head for days and weeks. On the other hand, it’s good to read a book that challenges my orderly set of ideas about society. Good for you for reading this one.

  3. Jackie says:

    Sandy – I saw that they’d made a film when I went to find the photo for this post. I’d never heard of it before then though. I don’t think it would make a very good film though. The whole point is that they are all blind, so cannot see what is going on around them. The moment you start introducing pictures of it all you’ll lose the atmosphere, and the real point of the book. I see the film has got some bad reviews, and I’m not surprised. I’m not going to watch it, as I can imagine how poor, but horrific it would be.

  4. Beth F says:

    I’m with Margot. It’s too close to horror for my tastes. I don’t need to be dwelling on those images! I don’t necessarily have to have feel-good books, but outright fear inducing books are just not for me.

  5. Jackie says:

    Beth – Fear inducing is the right way of looking at this book! I’m not frightened of monsters (well not really!) but the fact that this is so realistic, and could happen tomorrow makes it really scary.

    If anyone saw the UK series of Survivors recently, then this book has many similarities. Survivors was about a killer flu that wiped out nearly everyone. The people who were left soon started fighting for food and space. If you enjoyed Survivors (I’m not sure whether I did or not – it was a bit scary!) then you’ll love this book.

  6. Simon S says:

    This sounds disturbing, scary and quite fascinating, its been added to the list of books I am allowed to buy once I have read another 20 that I own… I am trying so hard to be good! I think this sounds quite amazing though.

  7. FleurFisher says:

    Well I have been wondering about this book and you have convinced me that I have to read it – thank you! One to read in the right frame of mind though, given the subject matter.

  8. DebD says:

    I keep hearing about what a great book this is. I’m going to have to get me a copy soon.

  9. Jackie says:

    It is a great book, but not one to read on a dark night when you’re by yourself!

  10. Rebecca Reid says:

    Sounds absolutely fascinating, albeit disturbing. Someone else mentioned it was worth reading but I didn’t know what it was about. I’ve add it to my list — although I’ll look for a bright sunny day to read it!

  11. Erez Gordon says:

    I have to agree.

    This is one of the darkest novels I have ever read and speaks volumes about our most essential nature.

    Saramago is a fascinating writer, producing works which inevitably question exactly what it means to be truly human.

    Blindness is haunting and although it has been made into a film I doubt very much cinema could communicate the Saramago’s message in as a chilling a fashion.

    This book certainly adheres to Kundera’s theory that a true novel is only executable in that form alone. (I can only assume he came to this conclusion after watching The Unbearable Lightness of Being).

    1. Jackie says:

      Erez, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! It looks as though we have a similar taste in books. I look forward to reading more of your thoughtful comments in the future.


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