by José Saramago · read June 21, 2020


Unsettling and insightful, this novel explores human nature in the midst of an epidemic of blindness. The content of the story itself is suitably horrifying and paired with a distinctive narrative voice that ranges from wry to earnest, pedantic to empathetic, detailed to sweeping. I think the most jarring qualities of the novel are the prose itself, which runs on and on, and its divided attention between the most base and the most noble conditions of human existence.

One thing I particularly liked in the story is the ironic use of omniscience – that in a mental hospital entirely occupied by the blind, there is an insistence that its horrors and trials be witnessed. Reading the book, then, felt like a kind of participation in that process, demanding a willingness to see something that others refused to, asserting that people are still there even if they're not seen.

Yesterday we could see, today we can't, tomorrow we shall see again, with a slight interrogatory note on the third and final line of the phrase, as if prudence, at the last moment, had decided, just in case, to add a touch of doubt to the hopeful conclusion.

Julia Cooke © 2024