Review: Seeing

Seeing. Jos SaramagoSeeing by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Saramago read after “The Double”, and I have yet to pick up a copy of “Blindness”. In this review, I want to briefly present aspects of Saramago’s style before I discuss the story.

The book is written in Saramago’s signature style: long drawn prose in which his sentences flow – sometimes taking up as much as a third of a page – and that completely and strictly does away with any punctuation other than the comma and period; even his dialogues dispense with quotation marks and are not paragraphed, marked instead by stylized irregular capitalization at the start of each paragraph.

The story is told by the witty narrator, who is generally more insightful than the characters he describes and who often addresses the readers to impart on them his wisdom or deeper insight into the characters’ natures or motives or about the plot.

Saramago’s distinct writing style isn’t inaccessible, although perhaps not necessarily readily appreciated by every reader; it is masterful in its subtle and accurate conveyance of the absurdity and genuineness of the characters or the situations in which they are. His writing is at once hilariously humorous and tenderly sad, often a satire of itself – a quote that, to me, epitomizes that aspect of his style and his genius is: “[…] the protecting sky in all its splendour and the golden sun blazing forth against a backdrop of crystalline blue, to use the inspired words of a television reporter […]” (emphasis added).

On to the plot:

I had started this book because the blurb promised a story that I felt was too relevant to our times in light of rising sentiments of political disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction worldwide and in my home country specifically. The blurb reads –

In his new novel, Jose Saramago has deftly created the politician’s ultimate nightmare: disillusionment that renders the entire democratic system useless. Seeing explores how simply this could be achieved and how devastating the results might be.

The story is set in a fictional country and its capital (the same one where “Blindness” took place), where the majority of the citizens cast blank ballots on National Election day. The plot follows the perplexity of government, the president and ministers, at the cause of this “epidemic” as it, often hysterically, scrambles to find a way out of a political impasse imposed on it by its capital’s citizens. The citizens appear to be at once nonchalant and yet are at various points of the story hinted at to have seen what others are not seeing.

I know that in choosing to read this book now for the reason given above, I may have made the mistake of wanting to read too much into a work of fiction, expecting it to perhaps offer concrete solutions to real issues, which, needless to say, it doesn’t. However, the story and its conclusion are an artful and possibly timeless depiction of our times, a complex parable – at times screamingly funny, often darkly sad, but always thought-provoking and a joy to read.

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