Blindness by Jose Saramago was on my TBR pile, (to-be-read, but you knew that, right?) for a long time, one of those big-themed books others deemed a classic. I remember when the movie came out and people complained that it wasn’t as good as the book, and somehow this book got built up in my mind that it was a masterpiece that I SHOULD read, and was somehow deficient for not having read it. So, I finally read it.
And while maybe when it came out, it was big and important, I’m willing to go out on a limb and call it “Not a lasting classic.” Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it’s an ambitious book about what happens when things in the world go off the rails. And I wonder if book like this are like American presidents–they get elected, hang out for four or eight years as the dystopic fear story, then get slowly forgotten. I mean, how many people still read Neville Shute’s On the Shore? Or: Lucifer’s Hammer, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Stand, Blindness, The Road, or your apoca-fic choice.
In Blindness, people start going blind, it’s catching, and eventually everyone is blind and things are violent, chaotic, and literally shitty. What is interesting and unique about this book as opposed to the zombies, nuclear apocalypse, sun going out, what have you, is that a virus of blindness is more easy to imagine than zombies, yet how completely it did, and likely would really, shut the world down. That one thing, sight, would bring the world to a half if it were gone. How would we feed ourselves? Like the sun in The Road, if vision is gone, if food stops being produced, then how can things continue?
If, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniform and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out, to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much talked of immortality.
Like The Road, Blindness is bleak and horrible, and has very little hope. While it has moments of loveliness, like a ritual cleansing in the rain of several characters, they weren’t enough for me to want to stay with this book. I read it, I thought about it, saw what it was saying, decided it spent too much time on ugliness, and I’ve moved on.