Monday, November 24, 2008

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Blindness by Jose Saramago (Nobel Prize for Literature 1998) might be great literature, but not for me. It is written in an experimental style (nameless characters, long sentences, no quotation marks - see note below) which made it very difficult for me to read.

The story is about the rapid decline of civilization and civility when everyone suddenly goes blind. The depressing and violent roller coaster steady moves to more depressing and degrading levels until the story ends.

While the characterization and description was everything you might expect from a Nobel Laureate, the resolution seemed flat (to me).

Note on the translation and page layout

The translation is British, but British usage is minimal. The book opens with an observation that the crosswalks are called zebras even though that do not look like zebras.

The odd thing is that the formatting is compressed. It is not unusual for the sole formatting of double page of text to be a single indent. The dialogue is run together without the benefit of quotation marks, indentation, or new lines. I found this very difficult to read and often had to resort to using my bookmark to underline each line in order to maintain my place in reading. The was not helped by the long complex sentences such as:
Until the causes were established, or, to use the appropriate terms, the etiology of the white evil, as, thanks to the inspiration of an imaginative assessor, this unpleasant sounding blindness came to be called, until such time as treatment and a cure might be found, and perhaps a vaccine that might prevent the appearance of any cases in the future, all the people who had turned blind, as well as those who had been in physical contact or in any way close to these patients, should be rounded up and isolated so as to avoid any further cases of contagion, which, once confirmed, would multiply more or less according to what is mathematically referred to as a compound ration.
This is from Wikipedia.
Saramago's experimental style often features long sentences, at times more than a page long. He uses periods sparingly, choosing instead a loose flow of clauses joined by commas. Many of his paragraphs match the length of entire chapters by more traditional writers. He uses no quotation marks to delimit dialog; when the speaker changes Saramago capitalizes the first letter of the new speaker's clause. In his novels Blindness and The Cave, Saramago sometimes abandons the use of proper nouns; indeed, the difficulty of naming is a recurring theme in his work.

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