Thursday, May 19, 2011

Literary Blindness

now finished: Blindness by Jose Saramago

WARNING: Thar be spoilers here!!! They don't start until the third paragraph, though!

It was my first Saramago. Blindness has been on my to-read list for quite some time. Funny thing, I actually own a copy in storage back in the U.S., that I picked up off the $1 bargain rack at Borders, a Borders store that's probably closed now. It was a movie tie-in edition, and normally I wouldn't do it, but the $1 rack convinced me. Didn't get around to reading it in the U.S., and now, in Korea, I've found a book group of foreigners that were reading it, so I re-motivated myself - and, necessarily, re-purchased it - and away we go.

Good book. They don't just hand those Nobel prizes to anyone. Yet. It can be really refreshing after months of reading Water for Elephants, frothy memoir, and some-written-better-than-others-prez bios to plunge into an actual, good, true literary novel. It can also make a girl want to abandon all aforementioned contemporary bestsellers, work-required memoirs, and non-fiction projects to read only true, good, literary novels for a while. But I do love my projects, so I'm not abandoning them yet.

Anyway, Blindness. REMINDER: The spoilers start here!!! One thing we discussed at the book group is that some advocacy groups for the blind and perhaps for others with disabilities apparently protested this book for its "depiction of blind people." I find myself in shock that someone could so have entirely missed the point of something. There are about twenty-seven ways in which registering such a protest misses the point. First and foremost, the book is an allegory, and one with many layers of meaning at that. So, the people who are initially locked up, the first few hundred or so to go blind, degenerate into a pathetic, violent state. This is so clearly not a commentary on people who are blind, because it imagines an impossibility, a world different from our own, a society transformed almost overnight. It's asking questions about how we function, what a society that has come to rely on certain things would do if those things were taken away, and what those who have power do with it. I'm like, actually offended by people who miss these points. Someone at the book group pointed out that not everyone uses their intellect, and an advocacy group is speaking on behalf of people who will be thought of poorly by those who don't actually think about things. Ugh.

More spoilers! The other thing we talked about at book group that blew me away was the ending. I mean, the very end, the last sentence of the book, so this paragraph really, truly is a spoiler and I'm begging you not to read it if you don't want the book spoiled. I made an offhand comment at book group when we were discussing the doctor's wife about how everyone would treat her now that she is blind. Someone stopped me and said, "Did you say 'now that she is blind'? She didn't go blind." Shocked, I realized that the majority of the readers agreed with him, and that I had read it differently. The organizer of the book group said a friend of his (who was unable to make it that day) had the same reading of the ending that I did, and he had reacted to her like, "Did we read the same book?" I am marveling that I could read the last sentence so differently, but I totally took it as her turn to be blind. I thought she "lowered" her eyes by closing them, so that the city would still be there in her mind. It makes me want to read the Portuguese and see if that interpretation would make sense in the original language.

There are no more spoilers after this sentence! I highly recommend this book. It has come to my attention that some people have an issue with Saramago's style, and the voice that meanders through long flowing sentences that don't break up dialogue with punctuation nor indicate who is speaking in the traditional "he said" manner. Sigh. I just sigh at people who complain about things like that without actually asking themselves, "Am I reading good writing or bad writing?" While there is subjective enjoyment of all types of entertainment (good or bad), there is - oh, yes, there is - such a thing as good writing. There are good writers and terrible writers. I have sat across from both in writing groups over the years. Guess what? Jose Saramago was a good writer. And I definitely want to read more of his stuff.

I finished this almost a month ago. Man, I am a blog slacker these days.

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