It was a short jaunt to Nebraska to visit family this year, and with all the hiking and driving and bat-watching, I got very little reading done. Usually I manage at least four books while in Glen, but this year I only read one. It was Blindness, by Jose Saramago, and I’m quite glad that it pulled the weight of all those others I didn’t get to read.
I liked it. I mean, I ought to, right? It won the Nobel for literature. And I can see why. It’s mechanics were experimental, but that never once detracted from the story. A hard task for experimental literature, and usually the quickest reason I have for dropping any prize-winning books. He forsworn dialogue tags of any kind in Blindness, and descriptions and dialogue all ran together in super long sentences broken only by commas. Normally I hate that sort of thing. Because I’m kind of a stick in the mud. But Saramago’s subject of the book; a world that has completely lost its vision save for a single woman, creates a need for this kind of literary tactic. None of the characters have faces, they don’t even have names, but they have little cues based on who they are. And the voices of the characters all run together in a white-out mess that is difficult to pull apart and assign to their proper owners, forcing the reader into the same position as the nameless characters who have gone blind. At one point, early in the book while the blind are still being forced into a horrific quarantine under the idea that we can sacrifice a few to save the rest of the world, Saramago even says to the reader “that is the world outside, and we are in this asylum, we only know what happens here.” I’m paraphrasing because I’ve misplaced the book in the commotion of unpacking. Anyway, I love this sort of firm but kind meta-narration, and it worked so well in the book. Especially because I am an impatient reader and I always want to know everything, at once, immediately, so it’s nice to have that hand come down and say “relax, I know you’re interested, but lets live in this moment.”
I just realized that I might actually have use for that canned book idea in Upright Citizens Brigade. Can you imagine just pounding back a pint of Dracula? God it’d be like a face-full of crack. But maybe I’m the only one who got that giddy reading Dracula.
Blindness, though. I’m talking about Blindness. The structure of it was brillo. Revolutionary, but without the usual hiccups in the mind that come with differently structured books. Nowhere did it seem over the top, or unnecessary. That’s it! It was experimental literature only because there was really no other, better way to tell the story. And that is why I liked it. It was a novel that naturally developed its own style because the story demanded it.
I do not mean to knock Saramago by leaving him out of that last sentence. It’s the author who has to be clever enough to get out of the way of his writing, and clever enough to guide it. This might sound odd, as I’ve just mentioned how much I enjoyed his brief meta-moments, but an invisible author is a tremendously powerful thing. I felt like Saramago, whenever he dropped in, was reading the book with me, rather than the writers who feel the need to play needlessly with language only for the girl-scout badges it grants them. If it aint broke, don’t fix it. But necessity is the mother of invention.
Hah! I’ll just turn this blog into proverb central, rather than my ideas on writing.
Seriously, though, those colloquialisms really define just when and where it’s okay to give up on quotations, lose the punctuation, and attempt to verb all of those nouns. If the story needs those things to function at its best, give it a shot. But be wary… not everyone can be Jose Saramago.
If your wondering; one. Only one person can be Jose Saramago. And he wrote Blindness.