Monday, April 27, 2015

What meaning do tears have when the world has lost all meaning

My resolution for the year has been to expand my reading. In the past things have been very white, very US based, and mostly books written since 2000. The only diversity stat I'm regularly able to hit is women authors. Some yay but mostly it needs some work. So when I was at the bookstore and saw a discount copy of Blindness by Jose Saramago I thought, yes, that'll do.

I vaguely remembered a movie based on the book being a thing that made me think "I should see that, that looks interesting" before never thinking about it again. A thing that happens a lot. But that was about all I knew.

In Blindness everyone suddenly, well, goes blind. There doesn't seem to be a cause for it. Just one day, a man driving his car loses his sight. Luckily, he's at a red light. Another man helps him home, and then goes blind. The first man's wife later goes blind. The ophthalmologist the man visited goes blind. This isn't a typical blindness, where everything goes black. This is the opposite in fact, everything is a bright blinding white.

Not sure if this is a contagious disease, though it seems like it, the town decides to quarantine the blind people and those that have recently been exposed to the blind people. By locking them all in an old mental hospital and randomly chucking food at them, because this is a terrible government. All of the aforementioned people are at the hospital along with a girl with dark glasses, a young boy, and a man with an eye-patch, all of whom were at the doctor's office when the first man showed up. There is one other person among the crowd who's not like the others: the doctor's wife. She didn't want to be separated from her husband when the ambulance came for him, so she told them she was blind. She figured it was just a matter of time anyway, but so far she can still see everything.

There doesn't seem to be any effort to find a cure or figure out what's going on, but then again all of the action takes place with these first patients so who knows what's going on outside the hospital walls. The number of blind people tossed in the hospital quickly goes up and conditions rapidly deteriorate. Like, almost instantly. It seems the first thing to happen is no one bothers to make it to the toilet and there is just feces and urine everywhere. And it's described multiple times, so this isn't me focusing on one tiny detail and blowing it out of proportion. The filth is everywhere and you start to think that this story takes place over several months instead of...I'm not sure exactly how long but not several months.

There are cases of people being terrible, hoarding what limited food there is and demanding various forms of payment. There are people being kind and trying to help, making sacrifices to make things marginally better for others.

The writing takes a little while to get used to. It's sort of one long run-on sentences. It's difficult to tell who is talking at times since there are no quotes used. People don't have names. They're just "the doctor's wife" or "the girl with the dark glasses" or "the car thief". But it doesn't take too long to get into the swing of things.

There's a quote from the NYTimes review that makes me laugh: "Absurd to say it, but the blindness in Saramago's novel is an allegory for not being able to see." Because sometimes a spade is a spade. Or because sometimes reviewers at all levels have no idea what else to say.

The book was a very different book than what I normally pick up and overall I enjoyed the book. Despite all of the excrement (seriously, why is that the FIRST thing people do when they can't see anymore??)

Gif rating:
with a little bit of

Title quote from page 248

Saramago, Jose. Blindness. Translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995