Blindness by Jose Saramago

BlindnessBlindness by José Saramago
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

According to the Goodreads rating scale 5 stars is equivalent to “Amazing”. And indeed “Blindness” is just that. But amazing doesn’t necessarily mean wonderful, or pleasant. In fact, employing the same rating scale I could just have easily given “Blindness” 1 star – equivalent to “I didn’t like it”. Because I really didn’t. It is possibly the most disturbing, difficult, at times confusing, altogether chilling book I’ve ever read.

What I didn’t like was the inference that in the absence of order, and away from the light (or in this case, blinded by light), human beings will revert to their most primal state – i.e. one of mere survival, AND that this state will necessarily and inevitably require us to dispense with all acts that we would normally associate with “humanity”.

Survival will depend, for example, on the committal of acts otherwise considered abhorrent or “evil” – like theft, rape and murder – all, supposedly, inevitable. Even the herione, the one who you would have to say had a “good heart”, is capable of murder (and I don’t judge her – I’d have killed the bastard too). The scissors are key here; she doesn’t quite know why she brought them with her. But she keeps them safe. Doesn’t want to look at them, yet at the same time doesn’t let them out of her sight. She refused to think she was capable of using them, though somewhere deep in her consciousness, she always knew she was (which is why she brought them with her in the first place – her conscious brain being somewhat slower to catch up with her primeval brain).

But then I started to wonder if therein lies the message (or at least one of a dozen of them) – that acts of goodness, kindness, decency – the very basis of morality itself – is merely a currency. The more “civilised” a society, the richer we are with such graces. The more our societies shatter and degenerate, the more fluid we ALL have to become with our transactions.

Take this quote, for example, “When the bowels function normally, anyone can have ideas, debate, for example, whether there exists a direct relationship between the eyes and feelings, or whether the sense of responsibility is the natural consequence of clear vision, but when we are in great distress and plagued by pain and anguish that is when the animal side of our nature becomes most apparent”.

Stripped of all our material possessions (for what use are they if they cannot be put to good use?), wealth (when there is nothing to buy), shelter (when you can’t locate your home), filial bonds (when survival demands you look only after yourself) roads, cars, schools, shops, banks, offices farms, sewage plants, (with no-one to work to maintain them), without all of this – what life is there, much less humanity?

If it’s tough to digest in content (I haven’t even mentioned the constant references to the stench of fecal matter and decaying bodies) then the style is even harder. Sentences devoid of punctuation, dialogue in bites from unknown quarters (yes, it is like you are blind too) and characters without names. And then add to that the sneaking suspicion that I only read Blindness on one level, on the surface, and that the meditation on “blindness” goes down maybe two, three, four layers deeper yet (God forbid, I might have to read it again!!)

But just like Lord of the Flies, which has similar overtones and has never left me, “Blindness” is a book that dares you to try and forget it.

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