On ‘Blindness’ by José Saramago

An epidemic will typically start with an individual entity. Blindness by José Saramago begins with a singular unnamed character, strikes him with sudden blindness behind the wheel of his car, and spreads out from there. The science fiction motif follows through the hoops of genre expectation, but with a literary merit that won a Nobel Prize. The initially afflicted are quarantined, and the standard of living descends into the wretchedness of human depravity. There is little hope beyond the instinct that dictates survival, and yet our cast presses on in the fashion of a funeral march. It is a heartbreaking read that ends on a hopeful note that almost feels forced. I’m not thrilled that this sci-fi tragedy had an optimistic ending, but even with the resolution comes the reflection of what a simple lack will do to a people, and to what depths are we driven by want? It’s satire, so I dig it. Yet it is not only the story that makes this book special.

The text is a fluid thing. It is without question or quotation marks, proper paragraph breaks, or even character names. The reader is challenged to forgo the expectations of traditionally published storytelling, and to feel their way through the text. The narrator jumps through perspectives, breaks from the story to imply or manipulate opinion, and seems to play with the experimental atmosphere of modernity coupled with the stuff narrative theorists dream of. The rhythm is fun to read, but the density removes the notion that Blindness is intended to be a quick read.

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