Like in Hunger, the characters in Saramago's book are not overtly named but referred to by description: "the first blind man," "his wife," "the doctor," "the doctor's wife," "the girl with the dark glasses" (even if she's not wearing them), etc. In a way it makes the plight, an epidemic that causes blindness throughout an entire city (or country), more poignant; it hits everyone and anyone. That is, with the exception of the doctor's wife, who retains her sight even when the rest of the world has gone blind. The opening scenes of the novel are pitch perfect: a man alone in his car in traffic suddenly goes blind -- a form of white blindness (instead of seeing darkness those affected see nothing but white) that spreads like wild fire throughout the population.
Those first individuals who "catch" the virus are quarantined and suffer through a hellish situation as more and more people arrive who suffer from the same plight. The novel doesn't shy away from its central theme: when humans are pushed away from civilization they will act abominably. That's not to say that the core group the novel remains centred around -- the first residents quarantined after becoming infected -- don't act decently. They do and continue to do so regardless of their increasingly difficult circumstances. But they come across nefarious and despicable people as they try to survive the decimation of their society.
I'm not sure if it's the translation, but Saramago's writing style reminds me of Marquez. He writes long, luxurious sentences that examine every aspect of the situation. The allegory (if I'm using that word correctly) of the story almost keenly ascribes the defeat of human society when faced with this kind of categorical tragedy. Old philosophical debates of the essence of the human soul, whether it's good or evil, are apt in terms of thinking about this book, and that's probably why I enjoyed it so very much.
But before I sign off, here's an example of how Saramago's keen observations bleed into every inch of the novel:
Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them come irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say.READING CHALLENGES: Jose Saramago was born in Portugal so this novel counts toward the Around the World in 52 Books challenge that has been woefully under represented in my reading this year. There's no way I'll catch up now so I'm guessing I'll give up sooner rather than later.
WHAT'S UP NEXT: Finishing Oryx and Crake and Brideshead Revisited (more 1001 Books!).