I had another accidental exercise in reading preferences – very similar to what happened to me while reading Crazy for Vincent/Intimacy.
I started reading Saramago’s Blindness alongside Borislav Pekić’s Rabies (Besnilo), having no idea what Blindness is about (I like knowing as little as possible about a book). Turns out – again – the books are eerily similar, yet completely different.
Moby Dick Syndrome
Some books are just…no. Simply no. Blindness is one of those “No-Books” for me. Reading it was a torture, and I still cannot grasp what pushed me to finish it. Maybe it was the Moby Dick Syndrome. Let’s just say, I know there is a white whale somewhere on those pages, but not only did I not catch it, I did not even hear it.
Blindness did manage to pull me in at the start. Lack of proper names, difficulty of discerning who was speaking and the seamless transitions between sections blinded me. It made me feel like I was a part of the epidemic and it foreshadowed an amazing immersive experience (which it failed to deliver).
In Rabies, Pekic’s wild and erratic style makes you feel mad, teetering on the edge of sanity (and humanity). And even though I had a lot of difficulty navigating through it (it took two tries), I got my white whale in the end and I loved every minute of the hunt.
What a Difference a Style Makes
Blindness is smelly, languid and apathetic. Rabies is violent, intense, and bloody. The destination of both is the same, but the paths they take are different. Rabies escalates, Blindness withers.
While it’s not hard to deduce what Blindness is about, I really didn’t get it while I was reading it. Having thought about it, I assume the point was to show:
- The fragility of the human condition/society;
- The ephemeral nature of what we see as humanity;
- “Reality” is arbitrary (especially when faced with severe adversity);
- The agility with which society turns out those who are different, afflicted, unwanted….
I just did not see it – I was too busy being irritated. I did not have any “there-she-blows” moments – it was all a struggle.
Rabies, with very similar allegorical tendencies, resonated with me with no problem whatsoever. Pekic has written a thriller, a clever crime story (with a hint of supernatural) with real people you come to hate/love and care about, a story which successfully led me to the white whale.
I’m going to quote myself here because I’m so cool:
Pekić is very ostentatious, very aware of his prowess and he’s putting it out there. It’s pretty much like this: “uuu look at me, I handle words the way you cannot handle oxygen, and I know it, and I want you to know it.” And I know it. And I loved it.
It’s Not That It’s Bad – I Just Hated It
Around 100 pages into Blindness, I had no empathy left and I didn’t give a fuck about the horrible reality the characters were subjected to. But it’s hard to tell whether that was a result of Saramago’s intention to show me I’m a part of that “humanity” (which is in essence inhumane) or was it the result of me hating the book.
There are more things I appreciated in Blindness, like Saramago’s ability to write about violence, blood and murder and still making it all seem lethargic and passive. Saramago is a magnificent writer. Blindness is not a lousy book; it’s just that I hated it.
Honestly? I don’t know. Having examined Blindness in more detail makes me think I was unfair in giving it a one-star rating. But I really hated it, I really did.
Should the aftermath matter? Or should the reading experience itself be the basis for a rating?