Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Book Review: Blindness – Jose Saramango

Recommended to me over a year ago by a friend, this book idled on my wishlist overly long. A truly stunning work of imaginative fiction, it should be experienced by all. Since I know you’ll be running out to the store to buy it right away, I’ll keep the synopsis spare: everyone goes blind and all hell breaks loose.

Like so much disaster literature (apocalyptic, dystopian, war, holocaust, Russian) the revealing bits are not so much the events or scenarios but how the people react to the atrocities. And I find it fascinating to see how quickly relatively stable social institutions break down when the animal spirit dominates. Surely everyone has pondered their behaviour under duress: who would you take with you in a fire, would you throw yourself in front of a bullet for your lover, would you starve to feed your child, would you kill, who? Saramango has the answers. And most of them are disappointing.

While the style seems intimidating, there are no quotes or paragraphs, just page after page of square blocked text, he is such an adept writer that it doesn’t seem cumbersome. Plus there is a very clever conceit revealed about the style which makes it all the more rewarding.

I understand that after many years of rebuffing Hollywood advances this book is finally being made into a film and by talented people too. It will make a great movie, I have no doubt. There is a great deal of nudity, dirty sex (literally), violence, horror, and plenty of occasions for strong acting moments. But because the truly stunning moments of the novel are inward looking, fans will be well served to spend a couple of hours alone with it before it gets laid out for them. It would seem fitting too that a story about the blind be heard rather than seen. Call me. I’ll read it to you.

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