Blindness Group Read: Week One (Spoiler Thread)

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Blindness Group Read: Week One (Spoiler Thread)

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sep 13, 2010, 7:28 pm

Hey gang! Hope you are ready to roll! This is a tough book to break up! There isn't even any chapter headings! So, I decided on splitting the book in half and we will read the first 160 pages in Week One. Start your engines!

sep 13, 2010, 7:33 pm

Got it starred and ready to go!

sep 13, 2010, 8:46 pm

Me too!

sep 14, 2010, 11:37 am

I read this book the year that Saramago won the Nobel prize. I got it because a friend of mine was stuck in an airport. A bookstore in the airport had a display of Saramago books due to the announcement that he had just won the Nobel prize. She had plenty of time on her hands and picked up Blindness. When she finished it she handed it to me saying that when I was done with it she wanted to know what I thought. When I finished it I did indeed have thoughts. And still do. It is that kind of book.

sep 15, 2010, 2:58 am

#1: In my copy of the book, page 160 begins "If, because of sudden illumination. . ." Is that where we are supposed to stop, Mark? I am asking because my copy is paperback and I have no idea if there is a difference between hard cover and paperback editions of the book.

sep 15, 2010, 7:04 am

Hi Stasia- Yes, that's exactly where I have it bookmarked too! It's the beginning of a new chapter. Thanks!
I plan on reading 30-40 pages today! Yah!

sep 15, 2010, 7:05 am

#6: Good. Just wanted to make sure I was on the same page with you, Mark.

sep 15, 2010, 8:42 pm

Thanks Mark, for putting the group read together. So far, I'm really enjoying the book!

Since this is my first Jose Saramago book, I’m wondering if all his books are written in this same style or is it deliberate for this book? Has anyone read anything else by the author? It certainly does draw me in with a sense of immediacy and without natural breaks, I just keep getting propelled forward.

I’m only up to the part where they are deciding what to do with people who have or were exposed to the “white evil” but it reminds me of how people with leprosy were rounded up in the 1800s. I’m specifically thinking of Hawaii and Molokai and the people who were unceremoniously dumped offshore and then had to basically fend for themselves if they managed to get to land.

sep 15, 2010, 9:37 pm

I too was reminded of the leprosy quarantines. The picture that came to my mind was that in Ben Hur instead of Hawaii, but the idea was the same. What I found interesting was that it started with just one person. I know that all epidemics have to start with just one person and it spreads from there, but what about a psychological epidemic? Like that in Salem, Massachusetts? Was that started by just one person?

sep 15, 2010, 9:38 pm

This is my first book by Saramago too. I find that the faster I read, the more I understand the dialogue. If I slow down and try to figure out who is saying what, I get more confused most of the time. The writing style is really interesting to me.

I'm also really enjoying the book and am up to page 56, having just completed the chapter where the 5-6 people with the "white sickness" are settling in to the mental asylum.

Interesting that no one has names and that the blindness is white rather than black.

sep 15, 2010, 9:49 pm

I don't know if all of Saramago's books are written in this same style but I do know that he was known for writing several books that fell into the magical realism category. Almost all of his books have something to do with politics. He was an avowed opponent of the Salazar regime and was an ardent communist. However, his communism was very different than that of the Soviet Union. Perhaps it would be more proper to say that he was an ultra socialist.

I think it would be hard to be a writer in Portugal during the time in which he lived and not be political. That country was very different in the 60's, 70's, and 80's than it is today.

sep 16, 2010, 9:55 am

I find that the faster I read, the more I understand the dialogue. If I slow down and try to figure out who is saying what, I get more confused most of the time. The writing style is really interesting to me.

I've noticed the same thing! The lack of quotation marks and the entire paragraphs with nothing but commas to break up the sentence fragments is a little disorienting, but I think I'm starting to get used to it. Also, I didn't even notice that no one has a name!

So far, this is a very intersting story. I have lots of questions, so I'm looking forward to seeing where Saramago is going with it.

Redigeret: sep 16, 2010, 7:30 pm

The very long sentences is a characteristic of Saramago's writing and is found in all of his books. Sort of reminds me of Ulysses by James Joyce.

sep 16, 2010, 7:36 pm

>13 benitastrnad: - Oh ok, I had a feeling that that was the case but I didn't know. It works very well with this book! And going with the flow of words really does make it an easier read.

sep 16, 2010, 7:49 pm

This style reminds me of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury which I did NOT like at all. But I will say at least Blindness makes sense. I do agree the faster you read this, the easier it is to deal with the lack of punctuation... unlike Faulkner's book which never gets easy.

The concept of Blindness is definitely fascinating. Saramago drew me in right away. As a bonus, I like the psychological comments he throws in every so often.

sep 16, 2010, 8:49 pm

Claudia- I have to agree with you, his spare wonderful prose, grabbed me immediately. Those opening paragraphs were stunning. I don't know much about translations but this one seems to be spot-on.

This is my first Saramago. Has anyone else read anything by him? The guy was in his 70s when he wrote this, so I would have to guess that he has written a few books.

Isn't seeing all white kind of creepy? Or is it just me?

sep 16, 2010, 11:42 pm

Mark, I also find the white sort of creepy. I don't know why but I keep thinking of their eyes being a milky white, like a zombie or something. Also, it seems like you'd get no rest if all you ever saw was white.

I'm liking how he uses certain devices to make you feel the blind people's confusion. I'm thinking of the way he handles the dialogue, how no one has a name so it's hard to keep track of who everyone is and even the chapters with no title or numbers so it's hard to know where you are in the book.

So far this is a very interesting read. I got up to page 94 tonight.

sep 17, 2010, 1:42 am

I just finished the first half of the book. This book is hard to put down once picked up!

I totally agree that the white blindness is creepy. And what a wonderful wife the doctor has. There are a few touches of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

I am wondering if we will find out what happened?

Redigeret: sep 17, 2010, 11:47 am

This is not exactly a high-brow reflection but when the opthalmologist was going through the different conditions and comparing them to the white blindness, I was reminded of Dr. House and his team doing a differential diagnosis on a complicated case :)

>15 -Cee-: As a bonus, I like the psychological comments he throws in every so often.

Me too! And I had to nod to myself when he was discussing how helping a blind man, with good intentions, only to rob him afterwards was the same as caring for an elderly person with one eye on their inheritance the whole time. The character of the car thief is the one I find most interesting right now because he did seem to have good intentions but it's becoming clear that he has a dark history, and his behaviour at the mental hospital was less than innocent.

The white hasn't really creeped me out, but the mental hospital has! That these people, half of whom can't see a thing, are just left in this cold, empty place to fend for themselves is pretty disturbing. As the government official was announcing the rules, I kept thinking that there was no way this would happen today, especially in North America. You'd think that the CDC and the WHO would have some kind of basic contingency for this ("this" being some unexplained epidemic) and there would be some kind of supervision of the patients. At the very least, cameras monitoring the situation and people in Hazmat suits ready to intervene. I guess you never really know until something happens, though. You just have to hope for better than this.

>18 billiejean: I am wondering if we will find out what happened?

I hope so!

sep 17, 2010, 12:20 pm

I'm loving all these comments. The white blindness reminded me of snow blindness which is a strange experience. Very surreal. The cold atmosphere in the mental hospital reinforces this perception.

>8 Copperskye:: Joanne, that was an excellent point about the leprosy quarantines. We like to think something like that wouldn't happen today, but relatively speaking, it wasn't all that long ago in our history that we had active leper colonies in LA and, of course, Hawaii. Aren't there still people living at the one in Hawaii by choice?

>18 billiejean:: BJ, I was fascinated by the doctor's wife faking her blindness in order to fit in with the others and look after her husband. Wasn't it interesting how well we were able to keep track of the characters without the use of names?

>19 spacepotatoes:: I'm with you, Andrea. The whole idea of dumping these people to take care of themselves is very disturbing. It reminds me of a concentration camp with no guards inside to distribute food or keep order.

sep 17, 2010, 12:34 pm

And why do you think it is that she never went blind? Random or is there another reason? You would think being in that closed in space that if she was going to go blind, she would right away.

sep 17, 2010, 2:32 pm

#21 That's a really interesting point, BJ. The first blind man's wife went blind so why didn't the doctor's wife?

sep 17, 2010, 4:06 pm

#21 Could the reason she didn't go blind have something to do with her uniqueness? What is she doing or saying that is different than the others?

#16 Saramago has an extensive list of books starting in 1947 with Land of Sin (no touchstone) and ending with Cain in 2009. (wow! no touchstones with these titles.) He has a longish entry in Wikipedia. Some of the titles that I recognized right off the bat were Stone Raft, History of the Siege of Lisbon, Baltasar and Blimunda, Tale of the Unknown Island, and the sequel to Blindness - Seeing.

You asked about the translation and I remembered reading something about that soon after I read the book in a Paris Review article about Saramago. Low and behold the Wikipedia article had the citation listed right first thing. Here is the section about the translation from the Paris Review, Winter 1998, v. 40, n. 149, pages 54 - 73.


I liked Blindness very much, but it is not an easy read. It is a hard book. The translation is very good.


Did you know that Giovanni Portiero, my longtime English translator, died?




In February. He died of AIDS. He was translating Blindness, which he finished, when he died. Toward the end, he himself started to go blind as a result of the medication his doctors gave him. He had to choose between taking the medication, which would sustain him for a bit longer, and not taking it, which would create other risks. He chose, shall we say, to preserve his vision, and he was translating a novel about blindness. It was a devastating situation.

sep 17, 2010, 6:10 pm

#23 Thanks for the information about the translator, Benita. That's pretty amazing that he was going blind while working on this book. At the end of my paperback copy, there's a publisher's note saying that the translator died before completing his revision and thanking the person that helped finish the translation.

I'll have to pay more attention now to what the doctor's wife is doing that may be different than the others.

sep 17, 2010, 6:32 pm

I've been trying to figure out the doctor's wife as well and all I've come up with so far is that she seems to be the only one who is not constantly looking out for herself, or protecting her own interests. But then I'd expect that the little boy with the squint shouldn't have gone blind either, seems innocent enough. Hmmmmm.

>23 benitastrnad: Thanks for the interview! I also have the note about the translator passing away before completing the revisions, but wow. That would have been devastating!

sep 17, 2010, 8:39 pm

>25 spacepotatoes: *the only one who is not constantly looking out for herself, or protecting her own interests*

More than that, going beyond self preservation, the doctor's wife was proactively caring for her husband and others regardless of the cost.
The little boy was still self-centered and only wanted his mommy... excusable/normal for a young child, but still all about himself.

I remember a philosophical discussion years ago in school over "is anyone truly altruistic - even if they believe they are and act as if they are"? I'd say the only one in this story (so far) who qualifies here may be the doctor's wife.

The whiteness doesn't bother me (course, I'm not afflicted)... but the lack of necessary provisions and unsanitary conditions does.

sep 18, 2010, 11:35 am

I am SO enjoying this book....much more than I expected to. I have tried other Saramago books, The Gospel according to Jesus Christ and Journey to Portugal: and found them very difficult, so this one is a delight.

I notice this thread is labeled "spoiler thread" - is there one w/o spoilers? I'm really not happy about hearing what's going to happen before I read it. If there is not a "non-spoiler thread, I'm going to have to wait until I finish the book to come back. Someone please send me a comment on my profile to let me know.

BTW, I am both reading and LISTENING to the audio for this one. I read at home, and then hop into my car and continue ---the audio brings a special context to the issue of blindness, because one has to use one's ears and mind to take in the words and the images, thus putting one further in touch with the victims in the book. A fascinating adventure.

In the meantime, enjoy everyone....I certainly am.

sep 18, 2010, 4:11 pm

I never thought about the audio version being a sort of blindness. That is a very provocative thought. ... And quite literal.

I have always thought that listening to a book and reading it are very different experiences. For that reason there are some books that I read and some that I listen to. Very often I make a conscience decision about which books to listen to or to read. Lately, I have found that I reserve the pleasure of reading to some books. Like those belong to an exclusive club.

sep 18, 2010, 8:43 pm

Tina- The only other thread is the general discussion one! I added "Spoiler Thread" because you should view this thread cautiously because people make comments as they are reading it. My opinion is, (I've done a few of these now), is that most readers don't divulge to much until later into the thread. I'll start a 2nd week Thread in just a couple days.

sep 18, 2010, 8:48 pm

Benita- Thanks for sharing the info on the translator! Both fascinating and sad. I think the guy did an incredible job here. He really captured the beauty of Saramago's prose.

I am reminded of The Plague, while reading this. That's a classic we read for a G.R., back in the Spring. IMO, there are a few similarities. Anyone else agree?

sep 19, 2010, 1:18 am

I agree. I was also reminded of The Plague.

sep 19, 2010, 2:50 am

I agree, too.

I picked up a copy of Blindness yesterday, and I'll start reading it later today or tomorrow; it will be a re-read for me.

sep 19, 2010, 11:49 am

I went ahead and posted the Week 2 Thread: right here

Darryl- Glad you can join us! I'm sure you'll be adding some interesting thoughts!

sep 19, 2010, 4:16 pm

I'm about half way through our first section (page 77) and I'm putting it to one side for a bit because I'm struggling - with the theme rather than the writing. It's bearable at the moment but I have this horrible feeling that this is going to be a Lord of the Flies where everything gets worse and worse and worse. Does it?

Hopefully it is just because I am really, really tired today.

sep 19, 2010, 5:06 pm

Well I confess that I've never read Lord of the Flies and it's not getting prettier, but I still am seeing (pardon the horrible pun) glimmers of hope. I've just finished the first part (through page 160) and although it hasn't been pleasant, the story is compelling, and I'm still rooting for the blind people and hating 'the government'. Isn't that what Saramago wanted?

Redigeret: sep 19, 2010, 6:02 pm

I was just reading the Wikipedia entry on Jose Saramago and noted this sentence:

"Many of his paragraphs extend for pages without pausing for dialogue, which Saramago chooses not to delimit by quotation marks; when the speaker changes, Saramago capitalizes the first letter of the new speaker's clause."

I hadn't really picked up on this clue!

sep 19, 2010, 7:07 pm

That's good to know, Pat. Thanks for the tip.
I may or may not have known this subliminally... but now I'll be on the look out.

I am not answering your question, Heather. I'm having a very hard time myself. I just want to finish this book now.

sep 19, 2010, 7:22 pm

>34 souloftherose: I have the same fear, but expect (hopefully) something different.

sep 19, 2010, 9:15 pm

I just finished the first section (through page 160), and I agree that it is getting increasingly bleak. I too have found myself rooting for the blind people over the government throughout the book. I love some of Saramago's comments about the government. For example, when the prostitute went blind, he observed:

"In a tone of voice that would have been sarcastic had it not been simply ill-mannered, the policeman wanted to know, after asking her where she lived, if she had the money for the taxi, in these cases, the State doesn't pay, he warned her, a procedure which, let us note in passing, is not wihout a certain logic, insofar as these women belong to that considerable number who pay no taxes on their immoral earnings."

But now the blind internees are turning on each other. The logic and compassion of ward 1 (the doctor's group) has quickly lost out to force and selfishness. I keep trying to figure out what the doctor's ward should do (especially the doctor's wife), but sadly, acting with compassion, treating others as you would like to be treated, or even operating from strict principles of justice seems unlikely to work.

It is also interesting to me how quickly people become defined as "us" versus "them." At first, it was the blind versus those who had only come into contact with the blind. Then groups are defined merely by the ward in which you chose to sleep when you arrived. I'll be interested to see if Ward 1 sticks together.

sep 19, 2010, 11:48 pm

I am only a little over 40 pages in at the moment, but am enjoying the book. I had to laugh at the rules listed on page 43 (in my edition) though: does the Ministry seriously expect a group of blind people to make sure that fires do not spread? Does the Ministry expect them to be able to dig graves? How are the interned supposed to keep track of all the rules? Is this section supposed to be satire?

sep 20, 2010, 8:15 am

Keep reading, Stasia....

I need to focus on the part 2 thread now. This is like watching a herd of innocent LT sheep heading for a cliff... I'm a little too far ahead and I don't know whether to say "Throw the book down and run!" or "Blast your way thru to the end." I am stubborn, so I am blasting. I can't even imagine an ending that will make this come out good. Maybe it won't.

sep 20, 2010, 6:13 pm

Stasia, I agree, the rules over the loudspeaker were a bizarre precursor to things to come. The government expects lots but doesn't feel the need to help any.

sep 20, 2010, 10:30 pm

I finished the first section today and I have to agree with souloftherose - I was seeing some interesting flashbacks to The Lord of the Flies when the social structure of the interned blind internees escalated into first a degradation of basic social norms to the profiteering of some over the well-being of the community as a whole.

I love Saramago's writing style - it is so easy to immerse yourself into the story and connect with the characters on an almost personal level. True to the other Saramago book I have read so far, the characters and the government are presented in a manner that is easy to identify while still remaining almost 'sanitized' of personal identifiers - as if he is writing to protect the identities (to some extent) of his characters.

Given the complete hands off approach of the government and the military guarding the perimeter of the mental facility while we witness the interactions of the blind internees, it is almost as if this is an extreme sociological experiment let loose to play out in whatever form it should manifest into. Downright frightening when thought of in that light!

... and I am having a bit of difficulty with the 'altruistic' nature of the doctor's wife... she appears to spend most of her time observing and occasionally interjecting, via her husband, with what is going on around them. The fact that the girl with the dark glasses was taking a more motherly approach to caring for the boy with the squint that the doctor's wife is intriguing me.

I will be continuing on to the second section later tonight, because I really want to see how this plays out!

sep 21, 2010, 5:26 pm

Perhaps it has been mentioned already and I just missed it, but I am finding it ironic that the blind people are being held in a former mental institution - given the historical treatment of those with mental illness.

sep 21, 2010, 7:43 pm

Lori- I enjoyed your comments! I felt the same way about the doctor's wife, early on, but her character really starts kicking in as the story advances. I think she's an excellent character!

Redigeret: sep 22, 2010, 1:52 pm

I'm about 30 pages into the second section but am avoiding that thread since I want to just keep going without spoilers. I finished the first section with my mind thoroughly blown. I love the writing, but do find the lack of proper breaks exhausting at times. I find that I really have to concentrate as I read.

The story...oh boy. Really interesting concept but so, so disturbing. Some of it seems absurdly unrealistic to me, but I think that's what makes the events here so unsettling; it is likely not as unrealistic as I want to believe. Kind of like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, it seems like a very exaggerated version of things that could very well happen given the right circumstances, and if people allow it.

I like the exploration throughout the book of what it means to be blind and the different interpretations of "blindness." It was interesting that when the internees were discussing what they saw right before going blind, someone (I think the man with the eye patch) says that they were all blind before they actually became blind. I also really like the doctor's wife.

It's hard to pick up the book to continue reading it, my stomach kind of sinks everytime. That's probably a testament to how good the writing is, since it's really unsual that a book will evoke such a strong physical reaction for me. I'm also sort of dreading the final outcome since it seems to me that there's only way it can go....

One thing I wonder about is the narrator. At first, it seemed like just the usual omniscient voice but there are also a lot of occasions when the author uses "we" and "I" to give the impression that the narrator is actually one of the internees. I started noticing this around the time that the extra 200 people showed up and it made me wonder, but maybe it was like that all along and I just didn't catch it.

sep 22, 2010, 3:30 pm

Hi Andrea, I also am in the same spot you are in the book (and I have been reading the Week Two thread which does have spoilers, so you were smart not to).

I underlined the comment in my book that you referred to about being blind before. It's on page 129--

"we were already blind the moment we turned blind, fear struck us blind, fear will keep us blind, Who is speaking, asked the doctor, A blind man, replied a voice, just a blind man, for that is all we have here."

As far as I can tell it's not the man with the black eye patch or anyone else that's been identified (maybe it's the narrator?).

I also agree that occassionally there seems to be a specific narrator and that I didn't notice this in the beginning. The language can be so confusing that I often don't know what's going on and I keep going anyhow and then can't pinpoint when something started to change or seemed different.

sep 22, 2010, 5:58 pm

Andrea - I was also going to mention that when I was reading Blindness and also when I was finished, I was left feeling the same way I do after I've read The Handmaid's Tale. It's hard to explain, but it is such an uncomfortable, agitated feeling. Also, I felt like I needed a shower...

I also noticed the shift in narration about midway through but couldn't pick up on who it was, if it was a specific character or was it that we as readers were now a part of the story.

sep 23, 2010, 6:12 pm

>47 phebj: That's the quote I was thinking of, thanks for finding it!

I'm glad to see that others noticed the narration too...after a while with this book, you kind of start to feel like you're losing it!

Less than 100 pages to go now...this second half is easier to take, so far. I should be catching up with you all in the other thread very soon!

sep 23, 2010, 10:34 pm

Pat - thanks for the heads up about the spoilers in the week two thread - I am over 3/4 of the way through the book so I think I will hold off on joining the second thread until after I finish the book - which should be tomorrow as I am finding the story really flies and I have time to get back to it tonight.

Interesting comment about the narrator - I was getting the feeling that the narrator was one of the internees but some of the writing was leading me to question that. Hummm. I think I will pay more attention as I finish the book.

Mark - you are right, I am finding the doctor's wife more intriguing now as I advance through the story.

sep 24, 2010, 1:38 pm

I really see the narrator as the omniscient author...the change of voice in parts is disconcerting, but it is the only thing that makes sense to me.

sep 24, 2010, 4:47 pm

I got to thinking some more about the narrator because after writing post #46, I came to the part where they meet the writer in the first blind man's apartment. It is possible that the narrator is the writer, and we are reading the story that the doctor's wife eventually told him? For me, that would explain the shift in voice from time to time, if it's a mix of their experiences/narratives.

sep 25, 2010, 12:39 am

Interesting idea!

sep 25, 2010, 2:25 pm

I reached the halfway point! As people have mentioned there are spoilers on the week 2 thread, I will probably stay on here until I've finished the second half (hopefully today/tomorrow).

#36 Thanks for posting that, it's very helpful!