Tuesday 27 September 2016

RIP XI Book III: Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness is not an easy book to read. It was my bus and work book for about a week (because, at a slender 300 pages, it's perfect for carrying around) and I started realising that I was having a hard time with it when I neither wanted to go for lunch nor home because oh my god the trauma. That isn't to say it's a bad book, nor a book you shouldn't read, but simply one that was essentially very emotionally stressful for me.

It's a book that touches a lot of my reading hotspots, like dystopian fiction and unrelenting and crushing misery (gotta have some of that crushing misery to get you through the day!), and the story starts off basic and becomes a shitstorm (almost literally) of horror and fucked-upness. The story begins with a man going blind whist driving, experiencing a tiny tragedy that pretty rapidly becomes a national one. The blind and those suspected of being infected with blindness are taken to a defunct asylum to try and prevent its spread, and the story is told through the eyes of a doctor's wife, apparently the only woman in the entire (unnamed) country who is unaffected by the condition. And it. Is. Awful.

What Blindness really seems to be about is showing how fragile the bonds that hold society together really are, and how easily things could become completely and utterly shattered, to the point that life doesn't look anything like it used to before. I have a personal fear of blindness anyway, probably because my eyesight is already so shocking, but I've never really considered the implications of an entirely blind population before. If you think about it, the entire world is built with the idea that everyone living in it is able to see (and for those who can't, the seeing either help them, or they develop ways of 'seeing' with their other senses), and once that sense, probably the most vital one we have, is gone, all that's left is chaos. Saramago explores this really widely in this book, and manages to present the bleakest possible vision of the kind of world that would exist if everyone was blind.

Unfortunately for the reader, we do get to see it, through the eyes of the doctors wife. She has the hardest time in this book, because she has to see the kind of things that the blind cannot help, but also do not have to look at at the end of it. The rivers of excrement both in the asylum wards and in the streets, the human corpses laying unburied because no one can see to bury them, the millions of other tiny and massive indignities that the blind still have to experience, but at the very least don't have to see. It's difficult to read this book and not feel generally bad about everything that's happening in it, but it's also difficult to know who to feel worse for- the blind, or the woman who has to see it all, and can't really do anything about it because she's just one woman.

To get any more into plot detail would be kind of naughty because you need some kind of surprises in your life when you get up the courage to tackle this book (which, weirdly, I do think you should do in spite of my, well, horror), but let's just say that there are parts of it which made me feel physically ill, mostly dealing with the idea that, in all situations there will always be people who take advantage in whatever way they can, and in all situations it's the women who get fucked. Saramago is also a huge fan of giant sentences and paragraphs, which made it really difficult to know where it was safe to finish reading and get back to my real life sometimes, and I'd also convinced myself that it was written in maybe the 1940s or earlier but actually it was published in 1995. I can't tell if this is a complaint or not, but it annoyed me that it was such a recent book and terms like 'bloke' and stuff were used, but I think maybe that has more to do with the translation than anything else. I guess that helps to make it kind of timeless, but for me it actually set it more in the past than anything else.

As far as dystopian/disaster fiction goes, Blindness is very much a highbrow version of, say, The Stand, which is to say that it feels more realistic than something written by, say, Stephen King, which makes it so much scarier than a lot of books along the same lines would be. I'm not sorry I read it but I will be happy going through my whole life never reading it again, trying not to fear a worldwide epidemic of blindness that is now clearly the thing I'm going to be scared of for the rest of my life. If you had any doubts whether this book was suitable for RIP, then that enduring fear should be enough to clear things up for you. Read at your peril.


  1. So nooooow I want to read it this instant. I've had it forever and it's one of those books where I just don't SEE it on my shelf any more and so it never gets chosen. I will remedy that this week, maybe, except I do have this one liberry book to read first, but THEN! Maybe. *so frickin decisive man*

  2. Hahaha, so you'll read it in a few years? Gotcha. I can't tell whether I should tell you to read it when you're happy so it'll only bring you down a little bit, or read it when you're sad so you don't ruin happy moods. Just... don't expect it to bring joy, ok?!

  3. Sooooo much poop.

    And agreed, it does seem like it was written way earlier. Definitely feels set in a far earlier time than '95, though I don't remember them saying anything about a particular year.