Blindness by José Saramago (read in 2015)
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
The story is of a man who is suddenly struck blind, seeing only a wash of milky whiteness. Others soon follow, as it becomes clear that the blindness is caused by a communicable disease.
Soon enough, everyone has it and the city is filled only with the blind, All, save one lady—the doctor’s wife, played by Julianne Moore—who is unaffected by the blindness, but not by its horrific effects (she lives in a world of blind people). The effects are as you can imagine, if you were to think about it: a city filled only with the newly blind, fumbling about, looking for food, looking for shelter, for a place to urinate or defecate. Before everyone has succumbed, the government ruthlessly quarantines the initial afflicted in a mental asylum. Food is delivered sporadically but relatively regularly. The place becomes nearly unbearably filthy.
As more and more people arrive, an element finally arrives that understands that societal rules no longer apply. They take all the food for themselves, rationing it out to the others in exchange for the last of their worldly possessions. When those run out, they naturally demand that the other wards send their women. After several days, the women volunteer for this horrific duty, even the doctor’s wife. Afterwards, though, she’s had enough and takes a pair of scissors she found to kill the ringleader, threatening the remaining pirates that she will kill more if they don’t give up. Another woman, traumatized by the rapes, finds a lighter and sets the pirates’ den on fire, taking them all out.
At the same time, the doctor’s wife takes her small group outside to ask the soldiers for help. They are gone. There is no authority remaining. All is chaos and anarchy, with only the blind to fill the power vacuum. The small group escapes back to the city, the doctor’s wife the only witness to the utter horror of the place, overrun by people who can no longer take care of themselves. They survive better than most, with the doctor’s wife’s sight helping them find food that others have missed. They return to the doctor’s home and settle in for a somewhat better existence than they had in quarantine, but one still bereft of true hope. And then, just as quickly as it left, their sight returns. The end.
This is a decent enough book, written in a flowing style that is nearly punctuation- and paragraph-free. I enjoyed the concept more than the writing style. Considering some of the implications—the filth of a blind world—was pretty horrifying. It became clear that, while the blind can survive well in a world peopled by the non-blind, a world where everyone is blind quickly becomes unlivable and likely unsurvivable. How do you farm? How do you protect yourself from the elements? How do you construct shelter? And so on.
“These observations of a psychological nature, whose subtlety has no apparent relevance considering the extraordinary scale of the cataclysm which our narrative is struggling to relate, only serve to explain why all the blind internees were awake so early, some, as was said at the outset, were roused by the churning of their empty stomachs in need of food, others were dragged from their sleep by the nervous impatience of the early risers, who did not hesitate to make more noise than the inevitable and tolerable when people cohabit in barracks and wards.”
“I suppose we’ll all be contaminated, there cannot be a single person who has not been within sight of a blind man, If a blind man cannot see, I ask myself, how can he transmit this disease through his sight, General, this must be the most logical illness in the world, the eye that is blind transmits the blindness to the eye that sees, what could be simpler, We have a colonel here who believes the solution would be to shoot the blind as soon as they appear, Corpses instead of blind men would scarcely improve the situation, To be blind is not the same as being dead, Yes, but to be dead is to be blind, So there are going to be about two hundred of them, Yes, And what shall we do with the taxi-drivers, Put them inside as well. That same day, in the late afternoon, the Ministry of Defence contacted the Ministry of Health, Would you like to hear the latest news, that colonel we mentioned earlier has gone blind, It’ll be interesting to see what he thinks of that bright idea of his now, He already thought, he shot himself in the head, Now that’s what I call a consistent attitude, The army is always ready to set an example.”