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by Jose Saramago

A man in driving his car in a city, he stops at traffic lights and is struck blind. So begins BLINDNESS. This is just the start of an epidemic that spreads rapidly throughout country, robbing everyone, for no apparent reason, of their sight.

At first the authorities try to quarantine the sufferers in order to prevent the ‘white evil’ spreading and confine them to a disused mental hospital. The initial victims, who include the first blind man, his wife, an eye doctor, the doctor’s wife, a girl with sunglasses, an old man with an eye patch and a small boy with a squint, become the focus for the novel and their experiences drive the narrative from then on.

Saramago imagines brilliantly the collapse of a civilisation deprived of the visual structure on which it depends and, as the horror unfolds, he develops the central metaphor to explore a number of key themes. However, the book remains a parable: it retains a two dimensional quality reminiscent of Eastern European cartoons and none of the characters are given names. This was a questionable decision by Saramago – it is as if he is implying that blindness strips a person of their identity. The writing style – minimal punctuation with no dialogue demarcation – is initially difficult but, as one accepts the premise, the pared-down sentences become appropriate, in fact essential, to the terrible world he describes.

Accepting his Nobel prize, Saramago, calling himself "the apprentice", said: "The apprentice thought, 'we are blind', and he sat down and wrote Blindness to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures."

BLINDNESS is an extraordinary book: you should read it before seeing the film and it will certainly keep you grounded should you be in danger of succumbing to Christmas cheer.



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