Thursday, 6 May 2010

Books and the Election

It's Election day in the UK and in amongst all the hyperbole and drama I've been thinking back to Jose Saramago's election themed novel, Seeing (a sequal to Blindness which was turned into a 2008 film starring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo)
So, to prove just how much power you hold in your hand when you visit the ballet box, I thought I'd repost this review. It's a great read, and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Saramago is one of the most interesting and thought-provoking authors I've come accross.

Read: May 2007
Still think your vote is meaningless? Read this and think again!

Four years ago, City was hit by a plague of blindness. It was contagious and there was no cure. Before long the entire population was blind and the City descended into savagery. But one woman retained her sight, leading her friends to survival. Through it all she had to watch as the savage and horrific events unfolded. But then, as quickly as it started, the blindness began to ease, people regained their sight and everything returned to normal.

We are now four years later and it is election day. But when the results are announced the government is devastated to discover that over 70% of the votes cast are blank. Not spoiled, not abstained, just blank. They hastily call a new election but the results only get worse. This time over 83% have cast blank votes. The Government panics, indignantly struggling to contain what they see as a strike at the very heart of democracy. But there is no sign of the origins of this conspiracy, apparently no criminal mastermind behind it. They declare a state of emergency and blockade the City, to teach the people a lesson about democratic responsibility.

Just as in Blindness the premise behind this novel is enthralling. There are few novelists whose books are as timely or whose satire is as incisive and funny as Saramago. The portrayal of a pseudo-dictatorial democratic government dogmatically using every dirty trick in the book to dissuade the populace from dissent is disturbingly believable. It is impossible not to be inspired by the opportunity for political dissent that such a mass tactic would provide, impossible not to dream of such unity of hearts and minds. The subtlety of the author allows him to write the entire book from the perspective of the authorities whilst, at the same time, lambasting their all too believable policies.

The prose style is dense and Saramago’s archetypal style makes for an often difficult read. This is a book to read feverishly in a couple of days because it can be difficult to pick up and put down. Also the narrative distance that Saramago affords his characters means they are difficult to connect with and there is little emotional centre to associate with. Instead this is a fearsomely intelligent tour de force in which Saramago questions how we can live so passively in a world with so many problems.

And the question remains: what or who has led the populace to act in this divisive way? Or could it be that the City is suffering once more from an infectious plague, this time making people see more than any disparate group ever could. Seeing has one of the most brilliantly conceived plots of any book I have ever read.

7.5 out of 10

1 comment:

Nikki Dudley said...

A brilliant book! I think I prefer it to Blindness in some ways. It has more dark humour and intimate relationships with characters. Also some of the symmetry with Blindness and it's themes are fascinating to revisit. It would've been funny if votes in the recent election had been blank! Perhaps they may as well have been...