Ensaio sobre a Lucidez [Seeing]
Funny how a man whose writing is so gimmicky, so intricate, so seemingly difficult manages, at the same time, to create the most entertaining stories. Somehow I would have thought that the two are mutually excluded. No idea why, just a trite idea I guess. But Mr. Saramago is here to contradict me in every way possible: long winding phrases, lack of punctuation, of dialogue, of capital letters even – all forming a sort of stream of consciousness that would be bound to make for quite a difficult read. Yet he is so enjoyable, his storytelling so compelling, that you’re hopelessly drawn to his world.
But I think I’ve said this before. This is the 3rd of his books I am reading and I guess Blindness had the most powerful effect on me because it was the first, because it was so terrible, so gruesome that it provided a pretty unique experience. As a follow-up to Blindness, Seeing strikes me as somewhat weaker – or at least not packing the same emotional punch. But on its own, it’s still a damn fine novel.
I’m writing this bit on a train, on my way home, looking at a bunch of small pointers I jotted down last night. It’s strangely pleasant – writing on a train, it’s a bit like doing 2 things at once and I’m quite sorry that my battery holds only for a couple of hours. Not that it would take me 2 hours to scribble down my little review…
Back to the book now: it’s structured into 2 parts basically – the first introducing all new characters and describing the new plague that has befallen that very unfortunate country (same as in Blindness, I’m wondering if it’s the same as in Death at intervals. But space is of no real relevance here, after all, Mr. Saramago is all about the metaphor.). Meanwhile, the second part revisits the group led by the ophthalmologist’s wife in Blindness. On a side note, I had read the book before I had seen the movie, so I guess I must have had a certain idea about how he doctor’s wife and all the other characters would look like. But after seeing the movie, all I could think about this time around was Julianne Moore. Not that she isn’t great; I just don’t really like the interference.
So…about this new plague: it’s blank ballots. Precisely, at some national elections 83% of the residents of the capital city have cast blank ballots. A government worthy of 1984 sees this as an attack on democracy and starts investigations by infiltrating agents in the crowds, placing microphones and basically putting the population under surveillance. When nothing turns out, not even after they imprison some 500 individuals and humorously and absurdly twist their words and the popular expressions they use into subversion, the government and all its branches and public institutions decide to abandon the city, expecting chaos to take over in no time. Making a point for adaptability and for the fact men can make and obey laws even without the ever watchful figure of authority; the city continues its previous life almost without disturbance.
My favorite things about this first part were the rivalries, squabbles and quarrels between the members of the government. Their theatrics their scheming against eachother, their perseverance to prevail, to have their solutions considered, to ultimately get a bigger slice of the power pie is very operetta-like: obvious, comical, but nonetheless a reflection of a certain kind of reality: the corrupt, influence starved political milieu. A trace of the idealist – in fact not idealist – of the more honest politician can be found in the mayor of the capital: after all, he was the one who resigns when he realizes the authoritarian turn things were taking.
The second part, the investigation, is triggered by a mysterious letter various ministers receive and which denounces a woman who hadn’t lost her sight when the blindness struck 4 years before and who, by a stretch of the imagination just might be responsible for the population’s new voting habits. White blindness, white ballots – the government jumps at the chance, this kind of absurd logic is right up their alley. And so, we go back to the capital, we revisit the old group together with the 3 policemen in charge – after 4 years, the doctor and his wife and the dog are still together (again, no one’s name is mentioned, they’re all identified by descriptors, except the dog of tears, whom we now learn is Constante), the old man and the call girl also, but the first man who went blind and his wife are divorced. In fact, he has been shunned from the group, he is no longer in contact with any of them – and, because he is the author of the infamous letter he is spared the investigation but he is deeply despised; in fact the commisaire (doesn’t it sound better than superintendent?) end up being completely repulsed by him.
But I really went on for too long and I’d rather not give up the ending. Personally, I wasn’t expecting it…and it was probably the best thing about the book.