The guy at the bookstore told me this book was “unlike the ones I must be used to.” He said the pages weren’t “full of dialogue.” He said he hoped it’d be “an enlightening experience” for me. Despite his all too obvious condescension, I’d gone to this particular bookstore searching for Jose Saramago’s Blindness and was pleasantly surprised to see it on the “staff picks.” I was unpleasantly surprised by the clerk’s attitude towards my reading habits (he thought I must just loooove Franzen). His attitude bothered me even more in hindsight as I became more and more engrossed in this book; I thought maybe he might discourage someone who might pick up Blindness by chance. I railed: “How could that man have been trying to scare me off? I was even wearing my glasses that day! He doesn’t know me!” But in reality, I worried his pretentiousness might succeed in scaring off future customers.
Blindness was unlike many of the books I’d been reading, it was not full of dialogue, and it was an amazing experience. This book was insanely original and both the language and the story kept surprising me. Which I liked, they weren’t weird, iffy surprises. At times I literally could not believe what I was reading- Saramago’s view of human nature seemed similar Cormac McCarthy’s sometimes, at least with regards to the ingenuity of human violence and crulety. Where McCarthy is stoic and stark, Saramago is lush and enmeshed.
This difference, at once visual and mental, almost echoes Jerzy Kosinski’s graphic depiction of the Holocaust in The Painted Bird. In Blindness, however, Saramago is describing a fictional disaster, embroiling his characters in the hell he’s imagined for them. This makes the violence they experience all the more personal and experimental, causing an almost creative reading experience. There’s no history to relive or picture, no witnesses to listen to or empathize with. We only have two remote imaginations to rely on, Saramago’s vicious one and the reader’s. Both are isolated, lonely imaginations, as uncertain and precarious as the victims of Saramago’s dangerous, brilliant writing.