Published: Monday, October 15th, 2012
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Books that play on incredibly common fears can be hit or miss,
the ‘miss’ resulting in cliches being doled out constantly in a poor attempt of coming off as being genuinely disturbing. Fortunately, Jose Saramago, one of Portugal’s most-revered writers, is more than skilled enough to dodge such pitfalls, in Blindness, one of his most internationally well-known, Nobel Prize-winning works. Blindness focuses on a set of characters; a doctor, his wife, and various characters they encounter in an entire country struck by an epidemic of “white blindness”, which is exactly as it sounds. The doctor’s wife is the only person unaffected by the white blindness, thus putting to test that old proverb, “In the land of the blind…”.
The book has a lot to offer to those looking for a plain psychological thriller, as well as those interested in an examination of the human condition. The present theme of humans, rather than the pandemic, being their own worst enemy will certainly draw parallels to various zombie fictions, such as Romero’s Dead films. In the vein of Romero, Saramago’s book contains more than its fair share of critique on human nature. The entire book is rich with such post-apocalyptic imagery, be it the slow but sure unknown origins of the pandemic, to the characters struggling more against other humans than the challenges of the disease. To put it succinctly, it’s zombie fiction without the zombie.
The book has an interesting style of writing, as though all the events within the book are paraphrased. There are no ‘quotes’, no dialogue, no inverted commas present throughout. The characters of the book lack names (for stylistic purposes, they are given monikers based on who they are, or what their physical appearance is), but not motivation or personality. The Doctor’s Wife is particularly interesting, being the only person to have not gone blind in the epidemic. The pressure and obligation to solve everyone’s problems due to her advantage can easily make one think of a hero’s obligation to society, raising the question, how important is your own happiness over that of others? The book examines this easy to describe yet undeniably complex issue with great detail.
Blindness is as far as a book can get from being light. The book is full of murder, chaos and destruction, as should a about the breakdown of society. Regardless of how squeamish you may get while reading, it is important that you keep on going. Good fiction will always provoke your emotions, and this book does more than its fair share. You will not only feel sadness, anger and disgust, but also a feeling of inner-conflict, the inability to decide whether various actions committed by the characters are justifiable. Blindness is morally grey. Blindness is frightening. Blindness is important and well worth the look.