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Living in the Shadows: A Review of Jose Saramago’s Blindness

By posted at 3:25 am on July 9, 2007 4

coverSeeing is believing. And if you don’t see the shit you wallow in, maybe you won’t mind it as much. Or at least that is one of the tangential points in Jose Saramago’s Blindness, a powerful journey into darkness that sheds a light on humankind in a moment of weakness.

With a simple narrative and unusual style, Saramago – the 1998 Nobel Laureate for Literature – constantly forces his reader to deliberate a situation that, in the course of the novel, becomes too real to bear in one’s mind: all of a sudden and for some unknown reason everyone goes blind one after the other. What happens next?

It is a tough question. I am not sure Saramago is trying to provide an answer. Surely not in the predictable plot, which is akin to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies: First there is calm, surely the situation can be contained and all will be saved, everyone acts rationally; next there are disputes, power struggles, dehumanizing situations; then there is chaos, expect the worst; finally, there is a resolution.

But the plot’s predictability does not detract from the quality of the novel by any means. On the contrary, as events unfold as a reader might expect them to, one begins to wonder if mankind’s reactions are routinely banal, i.e., consistent over time. Violence and occasional heroics follow each other and rise in magnitude over time; dependence emerges naturally; the impulse to quell chaos dies when individuals seek to satisfy personal needs.

Saramago’s economic use of words accentuates the grim conditions of a blind country, the helpless life plagued citizens are forced to lead and the speed with which life can turn from normal to a wild unknown. Suddenly, “I’m blind,” communicates more what than the two words ordinarily connote.

The author’s succinct style is remarkable for its clarity. Conversations are embedded in the narrative and commas are their only indicators – yet somehow the lack of quotation marks does not confuse the reader. Blindness flows seamlessly from beginning to end, horrifying the reader with candid observations of humankind and plunging one into deep thought – and depression.

Despite his usual hostility to religion, Saramago treads traditional symbols into his novel, and in the process creates a prophet – but one who breaks with the expected and, accepting the situation, sticks to a small group of followers.

Blindness is a moving expose on what men will do to each other when backed into a corner. And blindly punching away is just the beginning.





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4 Responses to “Living in the Shadows: A Review of Jose Saramago’s Blindness”

  1. Ted
    at 7:00 am on July 9, 2007

    Thanks for interesting me in this book. I've been curious about it but picked up All The Names first instead. I just posted on it today and enjoyed it quite a bit. It sounds like the tone is more whimsical that Blindness, although his writing of dialogue is the same. I thought it might be driven by the character's voice, but I guess it was the author's.

  2. bookbabie
    at 6:01 am on July 10, 2007

    Nice review, I liked the book too. I felt like I was stepping into it each time I picked it up and I can still see scenes from the book in my head a year later as though I'd seen a movie. A great contemplation of human behavior.

  3. jsulak
    at 12:39 pm on July 13, 2007

    Good review. A while back I went through a Saramago kick and read several of his books in the span of a couple of months. I recommend reading The Cave and staying away from The Stone Raft, which is a little heavy on allegory and thin on plot. But what a great writer.

  4. heifa chenini
    at 4:55 pm on February 8, 2010

    iam enjoying working on his 3 novels blindness, seeing and the cave. he is a great novelist :) iam happy to find many readers interested in his writings.

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