Blindness is a spell binding novel that I read recently. It was definitely not an easy read. The novel is long, grim and tiresome without much scope for any entertainment anywhere in it. Still like any great piece of art, it gives the reader a chance to think about life and living. Written by Jose Saramago in 1995, this Portuguese novel is translated in English by Giovenni Pontiero. The novel set in an unnamed place with all the characters unnamed is about a mysterious epidemic of white blindness that causes entire population to go blind. The plot of the novel forms the unpleasant and brutal after effects of this illness. The novel was adapted into an acclaimed movie.
The novel starts when on the middle of traffic, one of the drivers runs out of his car yelling he cannot see a thing. Peculiar thing is that instead of darkness which is usually associated normally with blindness, all he can see is a white light all around. Soon everyone who comes in touch with him starts turning blind. The novel follows the story of first few people stricken by blindness. Government fearing the contagious nature of the disease quarantines all blind in an old building. The doctor who checks the first blind person is also blind now, but peculiarly his wife is unaffected. She accompanies her husband but does not reveal that she can see. The number of quarantined people increases exponentially and life in the building deteriorates. Slowly the people turn into less than animals and doctor’s wife, who is the only one with vision alone stands witness to all these.
The structure of the novel is very peculiar. There are long sentences, sometimes covering entire paragraphs and there is minimal usage of punctuation None of the characters are having names and they are mentioned by descriptions like Doctor, Doctors’ wife, Man with black eye patch and so on. The narrative nowhere spares the reader any respite. All the goriness resulting from the deterioration of culture is put forth in detail for us to read. I feel Saramago’s novel is an allegory. A fable that tries to remind us what will happen if we do not see the obvious. Blindness is the malady of ignorance, not just ignorance but the willingness to remain so.