Sunday, January 22, 2012

Warning: This Book May Cause Blindness

Blindness by José Saramago (1995; Harvest Books, 1999, 352pp.)

Blindness follows the fates of a group of people who end up in an internment camp after a bizarre epidemic of blindness robs them of their sight. The reason for this drastic course of action is that anyone who interacts with the victims soon fall blind themselves. In a panic, the government has sequestered the afflicted in an abandoned mental hospital. As the pandemic sweeps the city, the population of the building doubles. There is a shortage of food and clean water, and the bathroom facilities aren’t working. Things get worse when a gang of resourceful criminals take charge of the dwindling food supply and demand payment in exchange for access.

This is a book that truly exhibits the highs, and, unfortunately, the extreme lows of human behavior. Violence breaks out among the blind, and women allow themselves to be gang raped so that they - and their husbands - can eat. While the characters aren’t particularly vivid, you still develop an interest in what happens to them. Unfortunately, there’s a vital flaw in the text itself. The author seems to have a strong dislike of using quotation marks, question marks, and, most importantly, the ENTER key. All action and dialog is run together (the dialog between individuals is separated by commas instead of periods) to form dense blocks of text on the page (I frequently had to use an index card to keep my place). Not only is this extremely annoying, it will probably make some readers go blind from eyestrain.

So, if you like a challenge (and have relatively good eyesight), then give this book a try (take frequent breaks to preserve your ability to see!). As far as less patient readers are concerned, however, Saramago’s attempt at the avant garde is the kiss of death - despite the book’s intriguing premise.

Click on cover for image source.

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