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Blindness is quite an astonishing book, unusually written, and not always easy to read, but well worth the time. It feels almost as difficult to review, so bear with me!

An epidemic sweeps an unnamed city, and there is just one symptom – blindness. It starts with just one man sitting in his car, but before long everyone he has been in contact with  – and everyone that they have been in contact with – are blind. In an effort to contain the illness, the authorities put all of the blind people into a disused hospital, but it is all in vain, as soon everybody is blind. Or almost everybody; one woman never loses her sight, for reasons unknown. However, she pretends to be blind so that she can accompany her husband in quarantine at the hospital.

As the amount of internees grows, the sense of community disintegrates. Before long, there are blind thugs controlling the food that the others receive, and demanding payment in the forms of valuables and sex with the women. The blindness truly brings out the worst in some people and the best in others.

The writing style is highly unusual and is part of the reason that I put off reading this book for so long. It’s written almost as a stream of consciousness, with long, long sentences. There are no speech marks, and dialogue between the characters (almost every conversation is between just two people, a fact I only realised after I had finished reading) is written in the same way – often as one long sentence, and the only clue that it’s now a different speaker is the capitalisation at the beginning of their speech. It helps to read the speech parts out loud.

Saramago pulls no punches with his descriptions – the women in the hospital are gang raped, and society disintegrates into crime and squalor, the sheer mess of faeces all over the floors, dogs eating carcasses of dead people – and it’s not a pleasant read. It really does make you think “what if” though. None of the characters’ names are given, and it’s not important. They are everyone, they are telling everyone’s tale.

So as I say, an extraordinary book, and often a difficult one. But if you are into dystopian or speculative fiction, I highly highly recommend it.

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