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Customer Review

197 of 220 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great High-Wire Act, May 30, 2000
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This review is from: Blindness (Harvest Book) (Paperback)
Blindness is my introduction to Saramago. A good friend at Amazon suggested this writer to me. Though he'd won a Nobel, I'd never heard of him, which comes as no surprise as I've read only about half the Nobel winners' and am totally in the dark when it comes to about 15 names on the list.
What strikes me most stongly about this book is the author's challenges he sets up for himself early on. As more and more characters are introduced, the challenge of keeping track of who is speaking and who is where mounts exponentially. I kept saying to myself "How's he going to do it when the wards fill up?" As noted throughout the reviews, Saramago does not provide us with the usual authorial roadmap.
What surprises me is that only one other reviewer (Michael Lima) mentioned that this stylistic maneuvering is a great metaphor for the subject matter. As readers, we are disoriented by the lack of accustomed punctuation, among other things. We have to pause sometimes to get our bearings. "Who said that?" we ask ourselves. It's exactly appropos to the way the blind characters react in the novel. Saramago wants the reader disoriented so that the empathy we feel for his characters becomes more pronounced. We share an awareness of what they are experiencing first-hand. We too have to grope our way in the dark, without the usual guideposts. The characters go unnamed. As one of the chracters thinks to himself,"names are of no importance here." We know them only as "the first blind man" or the "girl with dark glasses" or "the doctor's wife." One reviewer objected to this device, citing "the dog of tears" as an example of Saramago's ineptitude. I would counter that this is another intentional choice on Saramago's part to maintain the purity of his allegory. Characters in true allegory are never specified by common name. Just think of Spenser's "The Fairy Queen" or Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and you'll see what I mean. Saramago's characters operate as universal types in large part because they are nameless.
Often, Saramago provides us with stunning imagery, as in this example when the opthalmologist first discovers he is blind: "He turned to where a mirror was, and this time he did not wonder, What's going on, he did not say, There are a thousand reasons why the human brain should close down, he simply stretched out his hands to touch the glass, he knew that his image was there watching him, his image could see him, he could not see his image."
My only criticisms of the work are minor. They usually have to do with suspension of disbelief. I had to wonder why the doctor's wife didn't seize the thug's gun for instance after he was down. Also, when she entered the basement of the store, why didn't she first get a flashlight? Certainly that wouldn't have been an item that would have been hard to find under the circumstances. I also had a bit of difficulty digesting some of Saramago's homilies and folksy philosophizing, as in "her fingers brushed against the dead petals, how fragile life is when it is abandoned," or later: "...but none of us, lamps, dogs or humans, knows at the outset, why we have come into this world." Not exactly the most profound material around.
I would also differ with those who maitain that the narrative is detached or distant. Sometimes I found it obtrusive, as in the narrator's description of a statement made by the girl with dark glasses: "...surprisingly, if we consider that we are dealing with a person without much education, the girl with the dark glasses said, Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are." I would hold that this is a pretty condescending remark, intimating that a person with little formal education can come up with anything resembling profundity (which by the way, it doesn't anyway). There may be a hint of sexism creeping in here as well.
Please do not, however, let these few quibbles put you off from reading the book. It really does belong in the modern classical cannon along with Kazanzakis, the writer he most reminds me of. I have ordered The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, both on the strength of my response to this book, and because it came even more highly recommended by my friend at Amazon. I'm really looking forward to reading it.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 2, 2008 2:50:25 AM PDT
N. Sankar says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Oct 4, 2008 9:37:39 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 8, 2008 1:17:19 AM PDT
J. Seipel says:
The reviewer has read "Blindness", they are looking forward to reading "The Gospel..." by the same author, as mentioned in the 2nd to last sentence.

Posted on Jan 17, 2009 5:06:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 17, 2009 5:07:28 AM PST
G M says:
According to your review:

"What surprises me is that only one other reviewer (Michael Lima) mentioned that this stylistic maneuvering is a great metaphor for the subject matter. As readers, we are disoriented by the lack of accustomed punctuation, among other things. We have to pause sometimes to get our bearings. "Who said that?" we ask ourselves. It's exactly appropos to the way the blind characters react in the novel."

If that's true, then you should have no trouble explaining why exactly the same "lack of accustomed punctuation" is deployed in Saramago's other books (The Double, for example) which have nothing at all to do with blindness. Sorry, but it's plain from the evidence that interminable, comma-studded sentences are just Saramago's shtick, whatever the subject matter. Therefore interpreting such a prose style as a clever metaphor for blindness is to give the man credit for something he didn't do.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2009 5:45:19 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Feb 27, 2009 5:46:23 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 22, 2009 2:20:33 PM PDT
I don't think Saramago's style of sentences is interminable, but I agree that he probably didn't intend for his sentences to echo the confusion of the blind. His usual style simply happened to enhance the story-- a happy accident, in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 18, 2010 3:19:15 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 18, 2010 3:19:47 PM PDT
nobody says:
N. Sankar:
You did not read the review, hahaha!
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Bruce Kendall
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Location: Southern Pines, NC

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