Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Amber on Blindness

When I first started reading Blindness, I had to suppress the urge to chuck it across the room. One of my least favorite reading experiences was when my high school English teacher assigned All the Pretty Horses and I had to suffer through hundreds of pages of sporadically punctuated prose with unclearly attributed dialogue. However, this is my book club and I cannot quit in a huff, so I kept going.

As Dylan points out, Saramago's "innovations" are chiefly stylistic: run-on sentences and a failure to endow any of the characters with a name (this didn't register with me when I first read it, and it doesn't hinder the storytelling). Post-apocalyptic degeneration of social norms is hardly a new idea. The writing, however, makes up for the lack of creativity; my sense of creeping dread grew as I saw that one jackal-like group of blind men would sexually enslave the women in less aggressive groups, and if I also knew that rebellion and liberation were inevitable, that did not stop my stomach from churning when I realized that Saramago would not permit this until after at least one orgy of violent rape.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that so few episodes like this occur within the blind community. Partner-swapping and food distribution caused fewer emotional and physical battles than I thought would be the case; the shock of sudden disability and social upheaval seem to muffle the reactions of many characters, who themselves seem to exist in a white fog. Even though one character maintains her sight and recounts her experiences through the book, Saramago relies on little imagery to pull the reader along.

Some reviewers tried to tie this book to the magical realist school (I don't see this; the most magical thing is when everyone is spontaneously cured at the end, and that's hardly more improbable than a sudden onset of blinding plague) or claimed it's an allegory. I don't see Saramago as being terribly successful if either was his intent. The book seems very literal to me, but then again I am a painfully literal person.

When I picked this up from the library, I also got Saramago's The Double. I haven't decided whether to read it or not. If it had not been for the book club, I might not have finished Blindness. That probably would have been a mistake, but maybe not much of one.
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