April 25th, 2007

earthsea

April Books 18) Blindness

18) Blindness, by José Saramago

Back to Nobel prize winners rather than sf for a change. Blindness is the story of a city where everyone starts going blind. But it is very different from Day of the Triffids; the hostile entities endangering the lives of the newly blind are not giant plants but other human beings, the still sighted at first, and then other blind people. Saramago's view of the social breakdown is much more vivid and appalling than Wyndham's. How much of this is due to the catastrophe being gradual rather than sudden? to Saramago being Portuguese rather than English? to the novel being told largely from the viewpoint of the blind rather than the sighted? to Saramago being a better writer?

Saramago's characters and location have no names, and direct speech is not set apart from the rest of the text by quotation marks or new paragraphs, so the reader feels simultaneously dislocated and immersed in the catastrophe. It's a horrible vision of humanity; the book was published in 1995, so it's tempting to see direct reference to the Bosnian war, though of course there is inhumanity enough to go round from elsewhere. Yet, rather to my surprise, he incorporates a relatively upbeat ending. Apparently there is a sequel; I may even buy it.

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