Saturday, 22 January 2011


Title: Blindness

Author: Jose Saramago

Number of pages: 309

Started: 18 January 2011

Finished: 22 January 2011

Opening words:

The amber light came on. Two of the cars ahead accelerated before the red light speared. At the pedestrian crossing, the sign of a green man lit up. The people who were waiting began to cross the road, stepping on the white stripes painted on the black surface of the asphalt, there is nothing like a zebra, however, that is what is it called. The motorists kept an impatient foot on the clutch, leaving their cars at the ready, advancing, retreating like nervous horses that can sense the whiplash about to be inflicted. The pedestrians have just finished crossing but the sign allowing the cars to go will be delayed for some seconds, some people maintain that this delay, while apparently so insignificant, has only to be multiplied by the thousand of traffic lights that exist in the city and by the successive changes of their three colours to produce one of the most serious causes of traffic jams or bottlenecks, to use the more current term.

The green light came on at last, the cars moved off briskly, but then it became clear that not all of them were equally quick off the mark. The car at the head of the middle lane had stopped, there must be some mechanical fault, a loose accelerator pedal, a gear lever that has stuck, problem with the suspension, jammed brakes, breakdown in the electrical circuit, unless he has simply run out of gas, it would not be the first time such a thing has happened. The next group of pedestrians to gather at the crossing see the driver of the stationery car wave his hands behind the windshield, while the cars behind him frantically sound their horns. Some drivers have already got out of their cars, prepared to push the stranded vehicle to a spot where it would not hold up traffic, they bat furiously on the closed windows, the man inside turns his head in their direction, first to one side then the other, he is clearly shouting something, to judge by the movement of his mouth he appears to repeating some words, not one word but three, as turns out to be the case when someone finally manages to open the door, I am blind.

Plot summary:

Suddenly, while stopped at a red light in his car, a man goes blind. A "white evil" obliterates his vision plunging him into light as fathomless and impenetrable as the darkest night. A crowd gathers and one man is kind enough to see him home. It is not long, however, before an epidemic of the new blindness causes the government to act in the most authoritarian and fearful of ways, throwing many of the recently disabled into a mental asylum, guarded by scared, trigger-happy soldiers, left to fend for themselves.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book. In some ways, and perhaps somewhat insultingly to a Nobel Prize for literature winner, this book was a tangent from The Day of the Triffids, in that it followed the lives of a population that suddenly goes blind – that is what happened in Triffids, but that book was about the sighted instead.

It was an interesting and thought-provoking read, but also one that you have to concentrate on quite a lot, not least because Saramago is somewhat sparing in his use of full stops and paragraphs (this also made it a somewhat inconvenient Tube read at times).

I thought the concept of the book was good and, assuming you can come to terms with the writing style, it was a well written book. I liked that the ponderings of he author emerged at times, and that you got more than just a simple narrative. I know someone who says that this is one of the best books that she has ever read, which is not what I would say about it, but is certainly a well crafted and intelligently written book – and I plan to read Seeing, which is a (sort of) sequel to this book.


Sarah said...

I have this on my shelf for such a long time... Some of the reviews I have read have not really helped, but yours is giving me a nudge in the right direction... Thank you!

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - it is well worth a read. A point I only picked up recently is that you never find out the names of any of the characters in the book. Saramago likes to make things difficult!