Author: Jose Saramago (translated by Giovanni Pontiero)
Date Of Version Reviewed: 2004
Publisher: Vintage Classics
What the book is about…
What happens when a whole city goes blind? Not just a few people… the whole city. Maybe the whole country. Except one person remains able to see. The city turns to ruin as the emergency service and army begin to lose their own sight… a city of people with no true identity.
Hmmm. I am torn whether I liked this book or hated it. At times the whole thing felt like one tedious, repetitive nightmare that seemed to never end. At other times Saramago taps into concepts like identity, morals and how sight influences both our behaviour and who we are as individuals.
There are some truly hideous scenes in this novel which will not suit some with a nervous disposition and there should be a warning for those who have been raped in the past as it can be very unsettling (this comes from a male reader).Rape, violence, faecal smearing and death aside this novel is unique in that it raises the question… what if a whole country became blind? Especially if it was contagious? What would happen to the food supplies if every person was unable to find their sustenance; crawling through human excrement to find a loaf of bread or clean water. It is a gruesome image that will long stay in the mind after we leave the group of people who have no names.
There is an element of youth and the disinhibition one has when they are unable to see another person. One character has sex with an ancient man with an eye patch, despite being in her early 20s. Is this love or human need for intimacy and will it last? At the heart of the novel is loss. Loss of life, our career, our aspirations and our self-respect.
Saramago’s writing style can be somewhat jarring and was not particularly easy for me. That said, he has won a Nobel Prize for Literature and if you want to see an expert at work in the production of vivid internal experiences this may be one to look out for.
Final Thought: Not the nicest, most pleasant of experiences and with a slightly difficult style it is not a novel I would recommend highly unless you are particularly interested in ‘what if’ scenarios…