Blindness - José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero The grammar in Blindness (and apparently all of Saramago’s other books, I later found out) takes a lot of getting used to. It was extremely frustrating at the beginning and I considered giving up since there was so little going on action-wise and the sentence structure was so confusing. But I’m pretty satisfied that I decided to keep going, although I can’t say that I was floored by the author’s ingenuity or the novel’s overall awesomeness or anything. The grammar and style just bothered me too much to really enjoy it, and the plot, although new to me (I thought a book about everyone suddenly being struck blind would be quite interesting and thought-provoking), ended up losing my attention several times. The run-on sentences and lack of punctuation (especially quotation marks – why in the world couldn’t I at least have quotation marks?) really annoyed me at first (and only marginally less so later on). I know he was probably trying to make reading it initially boring and confusing to make the reader feel as though they had gone blind themselves so that we’d have to adapt and become more alert or whatever, but I wasn’t very impressed with this. Maybe I just wouldn’t make a very good blind person.

The imagery in this novel is surprisingly vivid even though it doesn’t employ visual cues and pictures. Instead, you hear the crunching of teeth on bone; you taste and cringe as moldy bread goes down dry
throats; you smell and are constantly assaulted by the foul stench of excrement, vomit, and filth everywhere. The touch of your fingertips becomes your closest thing to sight, like antennae on ants, feeling and milling about for food and comfort. This is probably the thing I liked best and thought was most unique about Blindness. Saramago attempts to blind you, too.

I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but to me, the doctor’s wife comes across as a sort of female Jesus Christ figure, leading and shepherding her group of blind people (there are seven of them, which could be another nod to Christianity, I'm not sure), taking care of them and weeping for them. She is the only known person left in the unnamed country who is able to see. This could be taken metaphorically, and throughout the novel, as the surroundings become more and more horrible, proverbs and sayings become more and more abundant. “Don’t lose yourself, don’t let yourself be lost,” and “We’re dead because we’re blind…we’re blind because we’re dead” are the two that first come to mind. What I would like to know is why she never went blind. Is it a metaphor for faith or something? Because she didn’t seem very religious to me (she kind of shrugged off the wife of the first blind man’s hint at God in one part), and never really praised about the grace or wrath of God or anything that I can remember. What made her so special?

Another problem I had with this book was the complete lack of names. Throughout the book there were several opportunities in which a person could have stated their name but they all just said something along the lines of, “the blind have no need for names,” or “my voice is my name.” Now I can understand how your voice would be just fine to use as a name were one able to hear said voice, but since we’re reading about these people it’s a little more difficult. Instead we have to deal with characters with ridiculously long labels like “the old man with the black eyepatch,” “the wife of the first man to go blind,” and “the girl with the dark glasses” (that one puzzled me especially since no one but the doctor’s wife could even tell that she was wearing sunglasses). I just think it would’ve been a lot easier (for the characters as well as the reader) to respond to a “Jack” or a “Judy.” Would you really want to call out for “girl with the dark glasses who slept with my husband” rather than a simple “Ashley?” I wouldn’t. It would be a little awkward. By the way, the whole affair between the doctor and the prostitute completely threw me for a loop, especially the manner in which the doctor’s wife handled it. Who in their right mind would watch silently as their husband has an affair with a prostitute and then get into the bed with them and spoon, saying it’s okay, I’m totally cool with this? And then she says later something about how she feels the prostitute is like family, like a daughter or sister – that’s just creepy.

I think I may give Saramago another chance (mainly because he’s a Nobel Prize winner and I’m probably just missing his genius or something) and read “Death with Interruptions.” Hopefully that one will keep my attention better and I’ll deal with the weird grammar and punctuation more easily since I’ve had some practice now. 2.5 stars