I don’t knit (though I wish I could), but I do belong to a semi-monthly book club, a concept that also sounds rather old lady-ish. “Summer of George” (named after a random Seinfeld episode, no one seems to be able to remember why we call ourselves that) has been together since last November, and in the four months since have managed to find time to in our busy lives to get together and have intellectual discussions.
In reality, I think the eight of us (missing two from the picture above) gather together to eat freshly baked goods, drink wine, catch up on each others live, gossip (the media really needs to leave Jessica Simpson alone on her weight issue), and then manage to find time to discuss our latest book, aka intellectual discussion.
The January-February novel we tackled was a pretty heavy choice – “Blindness” by Jose Saramago, the 1998 winner of the Nobel prize, the highest award in literature. Before reading the book, I was remembering how when I was younger my friends and I used to play “blind” – where we would take turns putting on a blindfold and leading each other around a store, house, etc. to see what it would be like. That innocent attempt at living without sight seems so trivial when faced with a book that brings up an unspeakable epidemic.
I am struggling with how to review this book – it is an epic novel and an extraordinary view on humanity, both from the aspect of just how low people can stoop, as well as the ability to survive against all odds. Saramago takes us to a place full of horror and the degradation of society. While even in the midst of the loss of all dignity and material things, generosity and finding beauty in the spirit of others still manages to exist.
Taking place in an unnamed city, country, that could feasibly be anywhere, one man is suddenly struck by a “white blindness. ” Opposite the idea of darkness typically associated with the blind, this affliction leaves leaves people with whiteness, as if they “were caught in a mist or had fallen into a milky sea.” The government tries to contain this epidemic by putting the first few hundred people struck blind into an ancient mental asylum facility to fend for themselves, with no leadership, health care or seeing eyes – except one. The reader is aware that the “doctor’s wife” still has her sight (beyond all reason), though she claimed blindness to be quarantined with her husband. This knowledge is privy to few, and eventually to a sort of rag-tag family unit that she leads out of quarantine, into a city in which every other person is blind, searching for food in the midst of human excretement and utter filth.
There are bonds forged in this novel, between characters who are never named or given much in the way of physical descriptions. Through the shared humiliation of rape by a gang of blind renegade men, to the sharing of what little food is had, to the loss of life that was known before, the characters survive in an example of camaraderie and survival not to be rivaled by many other stories. The people are turned into animals by circumstance.
This was not an easy book to read. It gets very dense in the middle, discussing survival and the more tactile problems like overflowing bathrooms (this book mentions bodily functions more than necessary, I believe) and simply all the menial aspects that become so important when unable to see. I also tend to be a stickler for traditional grammar, and Saramago throws the MLA book out the window. Run-on sentences with few dialogue indicators make this a book you have to stay actively involved with and can’t just ingest without putting forth intense focus and concentration.
I almost wonder if I am not a deep enough person to truly understand and appreciate this book. While not a page turner that I was compelled to finish in one night, I have found myself reflecting on this novel in the days since I read it. I would suggest this be a book you read with a discussion outlet available, I appreciated it more with the feedback from the other book club girls.
Alright my mini book report here needs to come to an end. I will come back and edit this post as soon as I get around to watching the movie-tie in that just came out on DVD – Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore are in it, so pretty big names means it must be a decent movie? I am curious as to how all the filth and violence will be portrayed, not to mention the struggles the actors must have faces pretending to be blind.
- Title: Blindness
- Author: Jose Saramago
- Publisher: Harcourt
- NovelWhore’s Grade, Reading Enjoyment: C
- NovelWhore’s Grade, Memorability & Impact: A