My friend Dominic recommended this book ages ago and I’m so glad he did! After thoroughly enjoying The Velvet Rage I knew his reference would be worth it and I’d put it off long enough so bumped it up on my list.
First response to this book: what a way to start 2014! I can’t wait to hear what It definitely makes me wonder if this will remain one of the top books of 2014. I read 1Q84 in January of 2013 and it was one of my top five books. Finishing this book inspired me to immediately go out (and brave the sub-freezing temperatures) to pick up Seeing, the sequel.
The book starts out pretty slow, and considering the lack of action and movement throughout the world, moves surprisingly rapid after that. The basic premise is similar to any plague-type novel starts with patient zero (we assume) and slowly expand out, the difference is rather than a traditional plague people go blind for no reason and with no physical manifestations other than blindness. If you want a longer description of the novel check out this 1998 NYTimes summary.
What I found most interesting about the novel was the multiple levels of social criticism and observation. The first hint you get of this is with the asylum where the original cases of the white evil are quarantined and you get a microcosm of what will happen to the outside world and you get this in such an extreme example that it’s hard to handle at a couple of points, but it was well worth the read and you’re not left completely disgusted at the end of the novel.
I also found the lack of punctuation less jarring than I have in the past when I’ve read Spanish/Portuguese translations. In general they don’t punctuate quotes and I believe Saramago cut out even more punctuation, however, this wasn’t noticeable even in the longer sentences and chapters. There was something so incredibly beautiful about Saramago’s descriptions and the sparse dialogue. One that stood out for me, because it was about books of course, was
“Now there is no music other than that of words, and these, especially those in books, are discreet, and even if curiosity should bring someone from the building to listen at the door, they would hear only a solitary murmur, that long thread of sound that can last into infinity, because the books of this world, all together, are, as they say the universe is, infinite. When the reading ended, late that night, the old man with the eyepatch said, That’s what we have come to, listening to someone reading…” (304-5)
And just imagine 326 pages of this. Every page was like a luxurious meal for the senses. I can’t say too much about the end of the novel but if you’ve seen the title of the sequel you’ve got a good idea of what happens at the end of the novel, but suffice to say that I haven’t made any major plot revelations.
Recommendations: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it, unless you’re a hypochondriac or terrified of losing your own vision. It is definitely going to stay towards the top of my list for this year. I’ve rarely read books this beautiful. There is also a 2008 movie adaptation of the novel that I can’t wait to watch and if it’s good I am TOTALLY going to recommend this book to my books into movies book group.
Opening Line: “The amber light came on.”
Closing Line: “The city was still there.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotations from Blindness
“The man’s insolence was like a slap in the face. Only after some minutes had passed, had he regained enough composure to tell his wife how rudely he had been treated. Then, as if he had just discovered something that he should have known a long time ago, he murmured sadly, This is the stuff we’re made of, half indifference and half malice.” (32)
“Now as we know from books, and even more so from personal experience, anyone who gets up early by inclination or has been forced to rise early out of necessity finds it intolerable that others should go on sleeping soundly…” (94)