Narrator: Jonathan Davis
Series: Blindness #1
Published by Blackstone Audiobooks on September 1st 1998
Length: 12 hours and 36 minutes
Genres: Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic, Literary Fiction
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From Nobel Prize–winning author José Saramago, a magnificent, mesmerizing parable of loss
A city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" that spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and assaulting women. There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides her charges—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and their procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing. AsBlindness reclaims the age-old story of a plague, it evokes the vivid and trembling horrors of the twentieth century, leaving readers with a powerful vision of the human spirit that's bound both by weakness and exhilarating strength.
‘… here he was plunged into a whiteness so luminous, so total, that it swallowed up rather than absorbed, not just the colours, but the very things and beings, thus making them twice as invisible.’
In an unnamed city full of unnamed inhabitants, a contagion of blindness which leaves individuals unable to see anything but complete white spreads like wildfire with no reason or possible cure. The individuals that attempt to help those suddenly without sight find themselves suffering soon after. A single individual, a doctor’s wife, is seemingly the only one to remain unaffected by the contagion yet pretends to have lost her eyesight so as to remain with her husband. From the first moment the contagion began to have its effect on civilization, everything about basic human decency begins to deteriorate. It’s an apt expose on what would happen to society if we were forced to go back to our very basic mentality: survival.
‘…for dignity has no price, that when someone starts making small concessions, in the end life loses all meaning.’
In an attempt to prevent the continued spread of the disease, the government resolves to round up the afflicted and place them inside an abandoned mental institution. In one ward, those who are already blind. In the other, their family members who are likely to join the others soon enough. Within these walls is where humanity deteriorates and where ethics corrode. It’s an epidemic that inspires to bring out the best and worst in people. Where many effortlessly revert back to their survival instincts and work to gain power by force over the others that still delicately hold on to their memories of morality.
‘Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are.’
It’s a deceptively simple concept: the loss of a single sense bringing society to its knees. Sure, sight is arguably the most important, but the fact that the loss of it would inevitably change us as people, as who we are in our core, is a frightening thing. And while some underwent their transformation into an animalistic thing, others were more hesitant to go there. But would it have only been just a matter of time before each one of them succumbed to their true natures? Basic human decency and the morals we cling to are clearly nothing more than an illusion when faced with adversity.
I first picked up this novel and found myself immediately lost in Saramago’s writing style. The narrative mode is a stream of consciousness and it’s quite a disorderly style of writing where commas run rampant and it’s difficult to separate between who’s who in conversations. I tried it in print first but couldn’t keep my facts straight so I opted for the audiobook where the narrator did an amazing job and fortunately made vocal differentiations in order to make the lack of quotation marks easier to bear. I definitely plan on seeking out more of Jonathan Davis’ narrations. Listen to an audio clip here.
Blindness is an incredibly difficult yet amazing read. It was horrifying and preposterous yet when you give thought to the concept of such an event occurring, the actions of these individuals appear terrifyingly likely. Let’s hope it never does.