In an unnamed society with nameless characters, a man in a cab is suddenly struck blind but cast into a milky white fog instead of darkness. His predicament begins to spread to everyone he comes in contract with, including his eye doctor.
As more and more people are struck blind or exposed, they are quarantined to an abandoned mental institution and held there by armed guards and are delivered food.
When officers come to collect the eye doctor, his wife lies and says she’s been struck blind too. She figures it’s only a matter of time before she loses her sight too.
In the ward, those contaminated are separated from those struck blind, and the one seeing woman hides the fact that she can see from the others. They must fend for themselves and the doctor’s wife helps the best she can. The characters begin to bond in a way but the author shows them not caring for cleanliness and things get nasty fairly quickly.
As stench already fills the halls and everyone goes blind, everyone except the doctor’s wife, they are packed with more and more people, including a group of men in another ward who begin hording the food and demanding the females offer themselves up for it.
After one such frenzy, the people from the other ward decide to fight back. When the vicious men summon women from another ward, the doctor’s wife rescues them by killing their leader. The rest riot and set fire to the asylum.
But the food has stopped coming anyway and the guards are gone. Some of the captives escape unharmed, including the doctor, his wife and their friends. Even though they gain freedom, their hell is only beginning, as society is now in utter chaos, as everyone, save the doctor’s wife have been struck blind.
Blindness is told in a stream of consciousness manner, without quotation marks or many paragraph breaks and with commas where periods should be. This should lend some sort of confusion, but after a while, the reader gets used to the style and it loses the effect of disorientation the author was trying to capture.
As a writer, I’m always concerned about confusing the reader, but after reading this strange piece and being able to understand it, I’m now less rigid with my pen and give readers more credit.
The original translator died, so the last quarter of the book or so reads more philosophical and lacks the easier readability of the former. You can almost pinpoint the location, because the switch in tone and style is so jarring.
I felt the writer relied too much on being avant garde with his screw-the-rules-and-my-readers attitude and I wasn’t impressed, as the concept fell short of his execution. Of course, some of this could be because of it being translated from Portugese to English, but at the end of the ream, it’s still the same book, and this one gives no rhyme or reason for far too many things.
For instance, the doctor’s wife could have been heroic before all the women were abused and raped, but she waits, which denotes to me an author going for shock value. She also stands by, watching her husband have sex with another woman and is totally okay with it. What?
Saramago tries so hard to disgust that it becomes obvious his twisted pen is at play rather than having various plot points organically birthed in the story.
It was okay but not a book I’d recommend or read again.