>Science Fiction: “Blindness”

The book “Blindness”, by Jose Saramago,  is a novel about  an epidemic of “white” blindness that hits inhabitants of a city. The blindness is called “white” – because the affected person “sees” a wall of white, as though inside a cloud, and the intensity of the whiteness is not affected by night or daylight.  The story examines the effect such a disease has on everyday existence of individuals and  the society.

The very first thing I noticed when I started to read this book is that the writer did not use the usual punctuation conventions when writing dialog. He did not separate what people said on the page, nor did he use quotation marks. The only typographical indication that someone started speaking was a capitol letter. Although odd at first, throughout the book I had no problems knowing who was speaking. Here is a small excerpt:

They arrived at the entrance to the building, two women from the neighborhood looked on inquisitively at the sight of their neighbor being led by the arm but neither of the thought of asking, Have you go something in your eye, it never occurred to them nor would he have been able to reply, Yes, a milky sea. Once inside the building, the blind man said, Many thanks, I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you, I can manage on my own now, No need to apologize, I’ll come up with you, I wouldn’t be easy in my mind if I were to leave you here. They got into the narrow elevator with some difficulty, What floor do you live on, On the third, you cannot imagine how grateful I am, Don’t thank me, today it’s you. Yes, you’re right, tomorrow it might be you.

What I noticed next about the story, that it was told in very personal way. The author writes about how the sudden blindness affected few people and how they had tried to deal with it.  The story was told from the point of view of few characters, without any other explanations as to what else have been going on and without any explanation why. In some ways this approach made the book quite scary, because it was easy to put yourself in the characters place and that was terrifying. Imagine suddenly going blind!

Perhaps the book felt more personal because the author did not give his characters names. They were just: the doctor, the first blind man, or the girl in the dark glasses. As result the reader can more easily place himself (herself) into a given character.

The story proceeded in several sections. When the first few blind people appeared they are quarantined by the authorities in an abandoned mental hospital. As more blind arrived there, the story proceed with the descriptions of their life at the hospital. At times this got very intense, as the author does not shy away from dealing with how your everyday bodily functions can be managed, when you are in a hospital full of blind people.

The interment gets much worse when a gang of blind crooks commands the distribution of food the other inmates. This was the section of the book that I found the hardest to read. There were just some awful things that happened and that were described by the author.

The next section of  the story could be described as a  “zombie apocalypse”.  The society has come undone. Basic utilities, water, electricity, food distribution are no longer working. In the city small bands of blind people wander about looking for food and drink.  The blind people move from shelter to shelter, as once they leave a place they are not likely be able to find it again – there are no guides.

Unlike other science fiction books in this vein, there are no explanations or causes given. Just a story how people try to deal with this personal and at the same global disaster.

I found the book terrifying yet fascinating, disgusting yet hopeful, and  somehow brilliant.  After all the tension built up during the blindness epidemic, there is great relief when the epidemic ends.