My first, of what I hope to be numerous, library book of 2014! I trekked through the sub-freezing weather last week after finishing Blindness to grab this from the library. And although not as stark or disturbing as the first book, Seeing left me in just as much confusion and distress. Saramago is clearly a master at speculative fiction and created a second work in what I could only hope would have been a trilogy, but unfortunately Saramago died in 2010.
This novel takes place four years after the events in Blindness and this is fascinating because the first mention of the “white plague” by the omniscient narrator is on page 77 and the first mention by a character isn’t until page 157 (almost exactly half way through the novel). I actually had to stop around page 30 to read the premise of this novel again to make sure I hadn’t imagined this was a sequel.
Whereas Blindness focused on individuals and their experience and showed a microcosm of society, Seeing focuses on the broader aspects of the society in which it’s set. [Saramago remains noncommittal about where the stories take place, but I put them in London in my head (the translator might be British based on spellings and some word choice).] He keeps certain things the same like his amazing ability to describe internal dialogue and his astute observations of humanity:
“It’s odd how we spend every day of our life saying goodbye, saying and hearing others say see you tomorrow when, inevitably, on one of those days, which will be someone’s last, either the person we said it to will no longer be here, or we who said it will not. We will see if on today’s tomorrow, what we normally refer to as the following day, when the council leader and his chauffeur meet again, they will be capable of grasping what an extraordinary near-miraculous thing it is to have said see you tomorrow and to find that what had been no more than a problematic possibility has come to pass as if it had been a certainty.” (104)
There’s another great quote I’ve used below which further shows off Saramago’s astounding perceptivity.
SPOILER ALERT: After this point there will be references to events that happen and people who appear in Blindness.
Rather than society going blind, I think this book is about the government going blind. I’m not sure if it was another allegory, but I honestly felt like this entire book was a giant warning story about fascism. After the population (or at least 83%) of it has spoken by casting blank ballots for the election, the party in power decides to take things into their own hands and you can imagine where that goes from there including the state of siege mentioned in the blurb and the consolidation of power outside of the capital. From the individual cracks which appeared during the “white plague”
“…it was every man for himself at the time, steal before they steal from you, hit out before they hit you, your worst enemy, according to the law of the blind, is always the person nearest you, But it’s not only when we have no eyes that we don’t know where we’re going, he thought.” (260)
to the cracks in social edifices which occur in Seeing
“Slightly embarrassed, the assistants sat down, conscious that, whatever anyone said, there was something improper about the situation, two down-and-outs having breakfast with a person who, in comparison, looked like a dandy, they were the ones who should have got their asses out of bed early, more than that, they should have had the table set and ready for when their chief came out of his room, in dressing-gown and pajamas if he so wished, but us, no, we should have been properly dressed and with our hair combed, it is these small cracks in the varnish of behavior, rather than noisy revolutions, which slowly, through repetition and persistence, finally bring down the most solid of social edifices.” (192)
Saramago creates a harrowing dystopic future.
As with most great books there are characters I hated and characters I loved. I was severely pissed to find that “the first blind man” from Blindness returned and caused trouble and even divorced his wife because of what she was FORCED to do during the “white plague.” In addition, the numerous sleazy politicians and ministers only further added to my discontent with the ruling government. However, the superintendent provided a much-needed conscience for the story and I couldn’t help but appreciate his sacrifice and the insight he brought to the government and to society at large.
The story’s conclusion took me by surprise and that’s knowing there was only one way it could end. With only a few pages left I hoped it would end differently but Saramago slathered on a few more scenes which served to confirm my suspicions that this novel was a warning for fascism or totalitarianism (I think I’m using that right).
Recommendation: I could see people who LOVED Blindness not enjoying this novel as much, but at the same time I think Seeing adds an even more interesting dynamic to the world created in the first novel. There are numerous people I can think of that would thoroughly enjoy the second novel but probably not the first novel and they could (feasibly) stand alone.
Opening Line: “Terrible voting weather, remarked the presiding officer of polling station fourteen as he snapped shut his soaked umbrella and took off the raincoat that had proved of little use to him during the breathless forty-meter dash from the place where he had parked his car to the door through which, heart pounding, he had just appeared.”
Closing Line: “Then a blind man asked, Did you hear something, Three shots, replied another blind man, But there was a dog howling too, It’s stopped now, that must have been the third shot, Good, I hate to hear dogs howl.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Seeing
“Caution and chicken soup never hurt anyone, in good health or bad.” (81)
“He did all this with great concentration in order to keep his thoughts at bay, in order to let them in only one at a time, having first asked them what they contained, because you can’t be too careful with thoughts, some present themselves to us with a cloying air of false innocence and then, when it’s too late, reveal their true wicked selves.” (261)