by Jose Saramago

A Review by Scott finished Dec. 26, 2009

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

The first thing that struck me while reading Blindness was the fact that the dialogue in the book is not separated by quotations, or new paragraphs. What this means is that when two characters are speaking with each other, the only way to tell when a new character is speaking is by a comma and a capitalized word. There is also no punctuation, in particular, no question marks. This makes it extremely difficult to follow who is speaking, when they are asking questions, and in general makes the reading experience unpleasant. This is not to say the book is bad, but Saramago's choice to structure the book in this way results in a more cumbersome, difficult reading experience.

So, why did Saramago do this (for it must have been intentional. After all, why would you purposefully make it so that the actual experience of reading your book is unpleasant)? My theory is as follows: when reading a book, you have very limited senses. First, there are the words themselves that make up the story. Second, there is your imagination that brings the story to life. Third, there is the physical structure and layout of the book. I believe by removing the structure and punctuation surrounding the dialogue of the book, Saramago has purposefully removed one of our reading senses in order to give us an idea what is it like to be blind, as the characters in the book are.

Thus, the question becomes, is this a good thing? Yes, and no. Yes, in that it succeeds to give us an idea of how difficult losing a sense would be. The book is far harder to read without one of our three reading senses. However, even being aware of why Saramago did this doesn't change the fact that actually reading the book is not enjoyable. Considering the dark and disturbing content, the combination results in a very unpleasant reading experience.

None of this, however, should be taken to mean that the book is bad. Seeing the slow degradation of humanity in the blind characters is compelling, and disturbing, and wonderfully rendered. There are also moments of beauty, such as when the doctor's wife begins to read to her small group, or when the woman with the dark glasses protects the small boy with no mother, and later when she and the man with the patch confess their live for each other. The most disturbing thing of all, however, is how believable it all is. It isn't unreasonable to imagine that what we see happen in the asylum and the city as a whole could, in fact, happen if the world were suddenly stricken blind.

So if I didn't actually enjoying reading the book, would I recommend it to others? Yes, in the sense that is powerful, insightful, skillfully rendered disturbing content. The book is well-written and the concept is well-realized. After all, books do not all have to make us feel good, or be fun to read in order to be worthwhile. Sometimes it's good to have an unpleasant, unsettling experience with a book. However, if you don't enjoy such reading experiences then there is absolutely no reason to pick this book up. I also learned, upon finishing it, that there is a sequel called Seeing. Though I'm definitely curious what happens to the characters and how people respond to the return of their sight, I don't have any desire at the moment to struggle through another book as cumbersome to read.

Favorite Quote

"This is the stuff we're made of, half indifference and half malice."

Jose Saramago in Blindness

First Line

"The amber light came on."

Jose Saramago the First Line of Blindness

Last Line

"The city was still there."

Jose Saramago the Last Line of in Blindness

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1995

Paperback edition:

326 pages - Oct. 4, 1999

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