Blindness by José Saramago

Blindness by Jose SaramagoThis book (1995) is the one-but-last read for my Dystopian Challenge. A good thing too, because the deadline is in sight: August, 24th! I have one more book to read, which will be Traveller by John Twelve Hawks and then I will never read any dystopian book in my life again.

No, that’s a lie! I love dystopian stories! I know there are lots more books around (see e.g., my list of dystopia for adults — as opposed to the ubiquitous YA dystopian novels). Unfortunately, my library does not have many of them.

Blindness is a medical dystopian story (unlike for instance the political dystopias in which the government has changed for the worse), in which people turn blind one by one. The first known case is a man that has stopped at a red traffic light, but when the light turns green, he doesn’t move his car, because he has suddenly lost the sight in his eyes. The friendly passer-by that drops him off at home turns blind very soon too, as does his wife, and other people he is in contact with.

The eye doctor he visits also becomes affected, but the doctor’s wife not. When all blind people are rounded up to go to a detention center (to avoid spreading the disease), she pretends to be blind so she can come along. She is the only seeing person in a group of blind people.

As no person of authority wants to be in charge of the blind in the detention center, for fear of becoming blind themselves, the newly blind are left to their own devices, with disastrous consequences.

The book is not a happy one. Many very unpleasant things happen. It is a very likely sketch of what people will do when they are together in a small space in completely new circumstances. It is not a pleasant view of humanity. As usual with stories, this book is no exception in having some good, decent, main characters that will not accept the inhuman situation they are in.

The book is written in a dense way, although it is quite an easy read. It’s dense in the sense that dialogues are written all on the same lines, there is no new line for a new speaker.  Something like this (not a real example):

They all went outside. – What do we do now?, I don’t know, But you’re in charge, Still, I don’t know what to do.

None of the characters have a name. When you’re blind, names are no longer important, says one of the protagonists. People have lost their identity. One of the main protagonists is the eye doctor. He, more than anyone else, has become dispensable.

A wonderful book which has some interesting ideas and a dark view on humanity when the world as we know it changes. There is a sequel, Seeing, which I will definitely read!

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Extra: See my review of The Double by José Saramago.

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

25 Responses to Blindness by José Saramago

  1. Joanna says:

    Good review Judith. I read Blindness when Saramago was awarded the Nobel prize for literature and I too found it well written but dense. I also find the European style of not marking where dialogue begins and ends a bit cumbersome. Greek writing has it as well.

    I thought the book was well done but I don’t know if I felt any resolution at the end. What was the point of it I wonder? Maybe the sequel will provide some answers. It felt a bit like things happen and then you get on with it.


    • leeswammes says:

      I was happy with the ending. There wasn’t much of a resolution, but I did think this was a new beginning. And then I found out there is a sequel!

  2. Joanna says:

    Maybe it was the feeling of ‘new beginning’ or a ‘fresh look’ at things – pun etc. Have you read The Double by Saramago? He’s a quirky writer. I have to read more of him and more of the dystopian stuff too – I love the alternate worlds.

    • leeswammes says:

      This was my first book by Saramago. To be honest, I only picked it up because it was a dystopian book. I do now want to see what his other books are like, though.

  3. diane says:

    Loved this book a lot (read it twice). Glad u liked it as well.

  4. Alex says:

    I’m Portuguese and everything that could possibly be said about Saramago in Portugal has already been said, so it’s always interesting to read a “outsider’s” opinion.

    He’s one of my favorite authors. I highly recommend Baltazar & Blimunda, where he writes one of the best lover stories in literature (my humble opinion).

    Good to read that you’re interested in reading further even after all the gloominess… I refused to see the movie. I figured that if it was faithful to the book is was to strong for me, and if it was lighter it wouldn’t be faithful so why bother?

  5. Kinna says:

    I recommend all his other books especially All the Name, The Double, Baltasar and Blimunda. the sequel to Blindess, Seeing is not as riveting as Blindness. Wonderful review.

  6. This is one of my all-time favourite books! Glad you enjoyed it – I LOVE it!

  7. Misha Mathew says:

    Great review! I can’t believe I haven’t read the book yet! There was even a movie , right?

    • leeswammes says:

      Hi Misha, yes, apparently there is a movie, too. I haven’t seen it. Not sure I want to, after the book… It’s a little dark & gloomy, but the book is certainly worth a read.

  8. amymckie says:

    This sounds like such a great book. I read and loved Death With Interruptions by Saramago and picked up this book afterwards. I have yet to read it, but looks like I should get to it soon as it sounds wonderful.

    • leeswammes says:

      How was Death with Interruptions, Amy? I had it on my TBR for a while, then purged the (virtual) list and it dropped off – because I hadn’t read anything by him before.

      • amymckie says:

        Oh no! I absolutely loved it. I thought it was hilarious, and very well enjoyable and entertaining. Too bad that you dropped it off 😦

  9. farmlanebooks says:

    I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this – it is one of my favourite books. I am a massive fan of Saramago, but unfortunately I didn’t like Seeing. It isn’t really a sequel, just happens in the same town as Blindness. it is very political and slow moving. I hope that you enjoy it, but don’t raise your hopes too much.

  10. Shannon says:

    I loved this book – but I’m curious, I wouldn’t call it dystopian. I’d call it apocalyptic. They’re quite different in my head 🙂

    I have Seeing but I haven’t read it yet. Am trying not to read Jackie’s comment, above, but whoops! too late! pooh, so it’s not as interesting…

    • leeswammes says:

      Shannon, I’m not quite sure when something is dystopian, but this was on the Wikipedia list of Dystopian literature. Wikipedia says: “A Dystopia is an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, though under the guise of being utopian”. So, in that case, I think it does fit more or less.

      • Shannon says:

        It’s one of those things that are far from clear-cut, but even by that Wiki definition I wouldn’t include this book. There’s no “guise of being utopian” which I think is the big distinguishing feature between dystopian and apocalyptic. There’s no supposedly-utopian society that masks a distinctly un-utopian state, or repression, or a limitation of freedoms, or brainwashing. I dunno, I guess the distinction is just nice and clear in my own brain…

  11. Novroz says:

    It sounds really good…I really have to find this book. I love this kind of book.

    Too bad I didn’t know about the challenge, I could join in if I knew it. I read The Stand this year.

    • leeswammes says:

      Yes, it’s a pity you didn’t know about it. I don’t think we knew each other when I started the challenge, otherwise you would have read my post about it. Maybe there will be a similar challenge next year.

  12. Carin B. says:

    I’m glad you liked this book! We read it in my real life book club a few years ago. Some of the scenes were pretty raw and I remember thinking, “Oh…my book club is going to hate this!” I think most people ended up enjoying it, but the violence was a little too much for one person.

    I didn’t find the punctuation difficult at all, and I really thought I would!

    I read The Cave by Jose Saramago after I read this. It’s definitely a much less shocking read, and I really enjoyed it. I will definitely try to read more of his books.

  13. Miel Abeille says:

    Actually, I think I saw the movie. It was tough to follow and not so good. Not sure I can recommend the movie to someone I like. 🙂 Based on your review, the book actually sounds pretty good!

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