Blindness by José Saramago

I have been intending to write a review on this book for a few weeks now and I keep getting caught up in life and forgetting. Yesterday when I pulled up at the local supermarket I was transported back to Blindness. “The Doctor’s Wife”, the only sighted person in a sea of blind, hunting for food. It is for me the strongest visual from Blindness and such a sign of a great novel.

The first thing I love about Blindness is how much you care about the characters although you do not know a whole lot about them. They are not given names. “The Doctor” “The Girl with the Dark Glasses” etc, are only ever referred to as such.

Sitting at the traffic lights, a man is waiting for the lights to change. He looks up. He sees a bright white light and cries “I am blind”. He is “The First Blind Man” A passer-by on the street offers to take the man’s car and drive him home. He drops off “The First Blind Man” at his house to await the return of his wife. We stay with him, but later we find out the man who dropped him home stole his car… and soon after turned blind himself.

“The Wife of the First Blind Man” takes her husband to “The Doctor” he is perplexed and recommends more tests, before the night is out he has turned blind and so have the patients waiting in the waiting room along with “The First Blind Man”

This epidemic of white blindness spreads and the powers that be decide to put those who are blind along with anyone who has been in contact with them into a closed mental facility to be controlled by a branch of the army. They are separated into The Blind and The Contaminated.

I am fascinated by this post-apocalyptic style of novel. This situation of mass blindness asks a lot of humanity. When the food stops coming regularly and one ward of the facility decide to control the food in return for sex from the females of each ward, I am sickened but not surprised. This return to primal desires is brought up often in post-apocolytic novels. In King’s The Stand, a motorcycle gang block a road and capture those woman who try to cross. A blind man in The Day of the Triffids, captures a sighted woman and uses her as his sighted slave.

Would I, as a woman, be prepared to offer myself to these men in return for food for my husband? Would men who were not felons or mental patients in their normal life, turn into sexual devients because of the leadership of one inherently bad man? If I were blind, with no indication of sight returning would I even have the will to continue to live in conditions such as these? For some reason these questions fascinate me and Jose Saramago does not disappoint. The characters do not have huge amounts of back story, but you are with them every step of the way on their struggle.

Let it be noted that I read this as an audiobook – Wikipedia says “Like most works by Saramago, the novel contains many long, breathless sentences in which commas take the place of periods. The lack of quotation marks around dialogue means that the speakers’ identities (or the fact that dialogue is occurring) may not be immediately apparent to the reader.”  The audiobook however was wonderfully narrated by Jonathan Davis and never felt like a translation. This book was originally publishes in Portuguese and there has also been a movie adaptation which, kids permitting, I will sit down and watch tonight and share my thoughts with you later.

If anyone is out there I’d really love some suggestions of similarly themed books to read. Earth Abides, The Stand, Day of the Triffids, The Road, Children of the Dust…  I’d also love to know of any outstanding audiobooks. Jonathan Davis narrated The Earth Abides also and I thought that was fantastic. A good narrator really does make all the difference.

Until next time …


Postscript; Well I did get to watch the movie adaption of Blindness. I watched it in 2 or 3 sittings which is the only way I ever get to watch movies and it wasn’t bad….

I am not usually a fan of Julianne Moore but she was good as the “Doctor’s wife”.  As is usual with most movie adaptations there were important segments missed and it was definitely not as good as the book but considering that all but one of the cast have to play a blind person I think it was terrifically well acted and scripted.

Give it a go if you like the novel but don’t watch it instead of reading the novel!


One thought on “Blindness by José Saramago

  1. Great review Tanya, it is definitely a book that I think of often. It is very much a thought experiment that hits the nerve about about how we ourselves would have dealt with the situation as one of the afflicted or as the only sighted person.

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