An unnamed city is hit by an epidemic which becomes known as the ‘white blindness’. The first wave of those affected are confined to an empty hospital. The confinement is meant to contain the epidemic but the ‘hospital’ soon fills up, a sign that things on the outside may be taking a turn for the worse. Conditions quickly become unhygienic, food rations are few and far between, and, if things couldn’t get any worse, a criminal element takes charge leading to a state of lawlessness and further degradation. Unbeknownst to many, however, one of the inhabitants is able to see…
I’m used to reading about epidemics of the zombie (World War Z), flu (Station Eleven) or weaponised flu (The Stand) kind. So an epidemic of blindness was intriguing. Rather than looking at how the epidemic is spread (as in WW Z) or how society organises itself in response to the epidemic (as in Station Eleven or The Stand), the author focuses on an a microcosm of society – the state of nature that exists in the hospital. The main characters are nicely developed and the author does a good job in conveying the sense of desperation and depravity felt by and surrounding the characters.
However, the novel takes a while to get going, which isn’t aided by Saramago’s style. Each paragraph seemed to be over two pages long (one was about four pages long). The lack of paragraphs is matched by the absence of speech marks, making it difficult to identify who is speaking at any given time. This may be a device to put us in the shoes of the characters and I understand it’s one of the author’s traits. Regardless, the reader is confronted with page upon page of dense text, which isn’t particularly inviting and tantamount to wading through treacle!
While I can’t give anything away, the sense of despair does let up and a chink of light does shine upon our small collective. Events do become more interesting but it just takes too long to get to this point. Moreover, once it does, it doesn’t stay there for long, as the book whimpers to its conclusion.
You won’t be surprised, therefore, when I say that I was disappointed. The premise is a great one but the book doesn’t deliver on it. From looking at some of the reviews, however, Blindness appears for many to be one of those love it or hate it books. For a safe bet in the post-apocalyptic genre, I’d go with one of those already listed – World War Z, Station Eleven or The Stand.