Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King"

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Last week, I had an hour to kill between the gym and a doctor's appointment, so I swung by the PX to pick up some make up remover, and figured I could get a magazine or book for the waiting room. I was pleasanty surprised to stumble upon Jose Saramago's Blindness as soon as I hit the fiction shelf. It's been on my Amazon wishlist ever since I heard about the movie for the first time, which also involved raves for the book.

I really liked the book. A lot. The premise is that a virus of sorts sweeps a country as one after another everyone becomes afflicted with a white blindness. The first to suffer from this condition are quarantined in a defunct mental asylum. As the situation on the inside (and outside) deteriorates, the blind must grapple with ideas of human nature, decency and morality. Living in filth due a lack of supplies and an inability to see anything, some of the people begin to turn on each other while others form close bonds. Saramago focuses specifically on one wing, which houses the doctor's wife, a woman who pretended to be blind to accompany her husband to the asylum. Her ability to see gives those around her a slight advantage, or at least allows them to hold on to their humanity more tightly. Saramoga's exploration of the people inside the asylum was very gripping, and high lighted all the best and worst aspects of human nature. It isn't long before a criminal element takes control of the asylum and uses their power to lord over the inmates.

The asylum was definitely the best part of the novel. Once they leave the asylum, the novel is still interesting but it seems much more familiar, even if the comparisons don't quite hold. By the time they leave the asylum, the group has been reduced to seven, and the idea of a small group scrounging for food, wandering from abandoned building to abandoned building very much reminded me of scenes from Stephen King's Cell or the movie 28 Days Later, for example. It's very different, of course, because there is no zombie enemy to hide from in Blindness, but something about the way that life had been completely destroyed and that these people were going to have to figure out how to rebuild their lives in a completely new world was reminiscent. Also, of course, there were many more people still alive, since in Cell and 28 Days Later, there are but few survivors. Despite that, there is the idea that the rest of the blind people, while not the enemy, aren't exactly friends, either. I would argue that this novel has some of that "us against the world" mentality that usually occurs in other post-apocalyptic fiction.

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