BLINDNESS is thought of by most people as Jose Saramago's masterpiece (although all of his works of fiction, with the exception of THE TALE OF THE UNKNOWN ISLAND are masterpieces) and, while I think THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS may be more sophisticated, I do think BLINDNESS encompasses the most universal theme.
BLINDNESS begins when a man in his car is waiting for a light to change. Before it does, however, he suddenly loses his sight completely. The blindness that has afflicted this poor driver is no "ordinary" blindness, however. Besides the speed with which it overtook him, it's a luminous whiteness rather than darkness.
The person who helps the man home is soon afflicted with the same blindness, himself, as is his wife and the doctor the first man consults. In fact, impossible as it sounds, this "white blindness" seems to be contagious and soon an entire group of people have been afflicted.
The blindness soon comes to be known as the "white sickness." Fearing an epidemic, officials round up those who have been affected and quarantine them in an empty mental hospital. This group consists of the first blind man, his wife, the doctor, the doctor's wife and three of the doctor's patients. The doctor's wife, however, for some unknown reason, hasn't lost her sight. She only pretends to do so so she can remain with her husband. As the book progresses, she not only becomes the "eyes" for the people in her group, she becomes the "eyes" for the reader as well.
As the hospital fills, it soon becomes clear that the quarantined victims weren't quarantined soon enough. The blindness is spreading like wildfire.
Inside the hospital, those afflicted have formed "groups" and each group is intent on protecting its own territory. As conditions deteriorate, so does the "humanity" of those quarantined. People steal food, others demand women be brought to them, arguments ensue and pools of urine and excrement accummulate. It's obvious that the blind have descended into more than a nightmare; they've descended into hell.
Trapped inside their luminous, white nightmare, most of the blind sink to the depths of despair and inhumanity. There are, however, a few acts of genuine kindness along the way to depravity and these few acts show the afflicted just how important "being human" really is.
BLINDNESS is a dark and chilling tale about a world that refuses to see. A world that "turns a blind eye" to the suffering and inhumanity of man. It's also a meditation (revelation, maybe) about the most primal instincts of mankind.
BLINDNESS is written in the trademark prose Saramago has made his own: The lack of punctuation (except for commas and periods), the sentences and paragraphs that go on for pages and pages. This prose seems to "fit" BLINDNESS better (at least to me) than any of Saramago's other books. The torrent of words seems to fit the rapidly deteriorating environment.
It doesn't give away anything of the plot to tell you that at the end of the book, Saramago does offer a world in chaos a ray of hope...in the form of a man who is truly blind.
BLINDNESS is a horrific book, but it is a book that is also filled with tremendous beauty. I think this is not only recommended reading for any serious reader, but reading that is required.