This is definitely a hard book to pick up (even if you can get hold of it from the bookshop), I had difficulties gaining the energy to read it as it’s not a particularly appealing subject matter; in fact, after hearing the synopsis I really didn’t want to read it at all. However I pushed through that feeling as I wanted to join in with a reading circle, and have been blown away!
The book is a contemporary tale of a plague of blindness that affects the population, and the chaos that ensues. The story predominantly follows an eye doctor and his wife as they are affected and put into quarantine by a panicking Government trying to control the outbreak. The novel is not for the faint of heart, it is a difficult book to read as there are many quite horrific scenes, however, it is incredibly unusual and ultimately rewarding.
It is such an interesting and very different book to anything I have ever read. The whole way in which it is constructed, the writing style, the lack of real visual descriptives (on the most part) and the lack of grammar really do leave you feeling a bit sensory deprived yourself. Which is a really unusual thing to feel whilst reading, and I imagine it must have been very difficult to write (or else Saramago is a very clever man!). I did find myself looking up from the book, testing my vision from time to time, which is just bizarre! Even when I think about the book now, I don’t have any real sense of visuals (I normally can picture scenes and characters after reading) but not with this one, it’s all a bit fuzzy around the edges! The unusual writing style does make the book somehow even more compelling; a lack of grammar makes you concentrate more on who is speaking (which you would if you could not see). Also, the neglect of character names and lack of visual descriptions all add to the feeling disorientation and deprivation that the characters feel.
It is not a traditionally scary book; the writer’s style seems to be quite matter of fact, purely just explaining what’s going on, so the reader is spared of the tense build up leading to horrible events, however the subject matter is scary enough in itself!
I did feel very much close to the action, like I was peering in through windows or listening in to conversations. I guess that’s the magic of Saramago’s writing, subtly bringing me in without me even noticing. All in all, it was a very enjoyable read (sometimes hard going because of the harshness of the realities of life), but well worth it as it is such an interesting and unusual book. It really was something like I’ve never read before; I think that’s really what made it so good! Blindness is very grim indeed, but at the end, I found it quite uplifting somehow, that the people had to go on this journey in order to gain understanding and greater appreciate what they have. It was a true test of survival, strength and survival instinct. It showed how people can adapt and that everything that was once important (cars, homes, family, material possessions) were taken out of the equation and replaced with new values; it shows the real strength of the human spirit.
This is a difficult but ultimately rewarding and thought provoking read – highly recommended.