Thursday, November 24, 2011
100 Books 67 - Jose Saramago's BLINDNESS
So it's now a toss-up between this and Cormac McCarthy's The Road in the contest for Bleakest Book I've Read This Year. Were it not for the ending, I'd say Blindness wins, and even thereby, it still kind of does. Which is saying something.
Interestingly enough, Blindness shares another quality in common with The Road: it's rather difficult to read, just in terms of the prose and, especially, the dialogue. Neither novel uses conventional punctuation or presentation for dialogue, but Saramago's work, at least as here translated by Giovanni Portiero, comes at us in great torrents, without tags or any warnings at all of a change of speaker. Hello, how are you, I'm fine, how are you, fine, thank you, where is the dog buried, over behind the cat's grave, ok, that must be what I smell, hey, I overheard you guys talking about a dog, I could sure go for one with catsup and mustard, no not that kind of dog you idiot, oh, ok, but I sure am hungry, why isn't there a food named for cats?
As you can maybe see from that made-up example, it's more or less possible to tell that more than one person is talking (I intended it to be three individuals - is that what you experienced?), and maybe even to tell, if you've outside or prior knowledge of characters' modes of speech or motivations, which character is saying what, but it's a whole lot of interpretive work that most of us American readers are unaccustomed to having to do, finding that the basic interpretive work of looking at skinny and repetitive designs in ink on paper, understanding them as words, and following the sequence of words as a story is quite enough, thank you.
But some books are worth the extra effort, and this account of a world in which first one man, then a few people, and then a whole bunch are suddenly struck with "white blindness" (in which the visual field becomes a field of complete white, rather than the blackness that we usually believe blindness to be), which turns out to be virulently contagious, and the horrors that ensue when first the afflicted are confined to a run-down mental hospital, and later when it turns out the whole city, perhaps the whole world, has gone blind, is absolutely worth that effort.
It is not, however, for the weak of stomach; if you are easily grossed-out by descriptions of serious squalor (as in what happens when a hundred of people or more are kept in a small space and can't find the toilets squalor), maybe give this one a pass. But if you're not that wimpy and want a seriously amazing read, don't pass this one by. Saramogo is a Nobel laureate for a reason.