Inhumanity to Man: Blindness by José Saramago

So… I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this review. I’ve been procrastinating in part because I found a reviewer on Amazon who already summed up my feelings in a beautifully short paragraph. They write (and I anonymize it to respect their editing rights):

This was a book that made me physically ill. While that is enough to give an opinion, I feel it’s still necessary to break down a critique of the book, to show that I read it and why I feel it is weak literature (among other things).

Pandemic and Pandemonium

A man in traffic is struck by a sudden blindness, a milky white blindness that comes out of nowhere. He is assisted home by some good Samaritans—or not-so-good-Samaritans, as it turns out that his car gets stolen by the man who takes him home. From here, things escalate when it’s discovered the blindness is contagious, rendering victims helpless within minutes or hours of exposure. Soon those who have been affected are rounded up by the government and sent to an old mental asylum to be quarantined. Here, left to their own devices and desires, the group of blind people must fend for themselves, at the mercy of the military and their own cruelty and desperation.

I felt this pandemic novel started very strongly, and I was immediately drawn to Saramago’s “collapsed text” style. Just how collapsed are we talking? For example:

Confidential matters are not dealt with over the telephone, you’d better come here in person. I cannot leave the house, Do you mean you’re ill, Yes, I’m ill, the blind man said after a pause. In that case you ought to call a doctor, a real doctor, quipped the functionary, and, delighted with his own wit, he rang off.

I was reminded of Kafka, so this was right up my alley. I felt it added greatly to the sense of chaos and unease in the story. However, if you dislike this style, you’ll find the entire book very frustrating to read.

I enjoyed the near-cinematic composition of scenes, starting with the one driver and gradually building up a cast of characters from different walks of life. For the first third or so of the novel, it seemed to me every scene had a purpose and was pretty well crafted.

Once at the mental asylum, things fell apart fast, like Lord of the Flies on steroids. I could not help but compare the two books, even though their premises are so different. Both propose a kind of blackpilled vision of what society looks like without order and civilization. A proper comparison between the two would take a whole ‘nother post (which I may do in the future). Overall, I found Lord of the Flies to be a better reading experience, which I’ll explain later in this review.

Reading Blindness, I kept thinking, This is like a slice of hell. Except I think that Hell—the actual biblical Hell, that is, not Dante’s fiction—is less perverse. As the Amazon reviewer observed, Saramago seems to think his readers have very little imagination.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – Including discussion of violence against women.

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