Posted by: Matt | May 4, 2007

Review of Blindness

BlindnessI began this book, Blindness, with great anticipation. Many were extolling its virtues. The premise was fascinating: a man sitting at a traffic light suddenly turns blind. It spreads, seemingly communicable. The first to go blind are taken to a mental hospital, quarantined in terrible conditions, while the population outside rapidly succumbs, blindness spreading like a disease.

I stepped into the novel unaware of just how harsh, how inhumane some of the players would be. Things quickly go from bad to worse, think about the entire population of your city, your country, suddenly going blind. What would be the consequences? It is difficult to imagine. But Jose Saramago can and does imagine it, and seemingly quite well. He understands the depths to which people descend, both morally and emotionally. And he understands that this world, an unseeing world, is full of crap. And I mean that literally. There is a copious amount of feces and a copious amount of describing it. Yet it does not detract from the story too much, but is noticeable.

Saramago also has an interesting way of writing. He shuns the use of quotation marks, all dialogue appears within long paragraphs, seperated only by commas, no periods. Capitals are used to denote change from one persons speech to another. Although very different, it is not too difficult to follow.

I enjoyed the book, found it fascinating at times, it began climbing to that pinnacle, the point where a book becomes great, a part of me. But it seemed to fall just short. It never arrived. I reached the last page, the book ending the only way I could see it ending, and then I put it away. I was mildly disappointed, but only because of my great expectations. It never quite reached the elevation, the heights I had hoped. But let that not dissuade you.

Rating: 4.0 3.0

Update:  I have changed my rating in an effort to be more honest with myself.



  1. Matt, I finished the book today, too, and posted my impressions of it. We hit on some of the same points but I seem to have been a little more impressed with the book than you ended up being…although we both rated it at 4.0.

    I’m not sure when I’ll be ready for another of Saramago’s books but I do plan to read what appears to be a sequel of sorts to it at some point. It’s called “Seeing” and uses some of the same characters that “Blindness” used.

  2. Great review (both of you). I liked it so much I was prone to hyperbole. Maybe I should have stepped back a little, given myself a breather before blogging about it.

    Interesting that you say that the copious amounts of feces and sparse amounts of punctuation didn’t detract from the book. A few of those at my book club felt that it did ruin the book. I got past the shit though and the lack of quotation marks I felt actually added to the story.

    To me, as you have gathered, it did reach the level of greatness. I’m sorry if my enthusiasm may have set you up for a bit of a let down, but at least you enjoyed it on some levels (4’s pretty good!). I think part of the reason I liked it so much, which I don’t know if I communicated that well on my own blog, was for what it said about how easily we can commit horrendous acts on others when we simply don’t see them. I think Saramago was able to show humanity in a concentrated form, and like all concentrate the flavour is very intense.

  3. John – Don’t worry about it, I certainly don’t blame you for making my expectations too high. I had hyped it up for myself to some degree. And I don’t think my expectations really lowered my enjoyment of the book. I think my review may have come off as more negative than I intended. I thought the book was good, just not as good as I was hoping.

  4. Sorry the book didn’t meet your expectations. I’m with John, the book reached greatness for me too. I still think about it and I read it five years ago. That there was only one person who saw everything, who has to carrying that with her, who has no one else to share her experience with–the burden of the witness. It deeply affected me. And then the dog, I’m always a sucker for a dog. And the scene where they are showering on in the rain on the balconey, beautiful. Do read Seeing, by the end of that book I was sobbing.

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