This was a hard one for me. I feel that a lot of the philosophical musings and observations Saramago makes are really insightful and his parable really does successfully show just how horrific and noble human beings can be when placed in a desperate situation. The problem for me was that oftentimes it felt like he used certain events, or even simple descriptions, to wax philosophical for oftentimes a page or more before getting back to the action. His written style takes some getting used to as well. Saramago punctuates sparingly and uses no quotations to identify when dialogue is taking place, and I often had to go back and reread parts of it to make sure I was getting the characters (who have no names) right. Oftentimes this novel made me feel extremely stupid for not getting it and it felt like work at times too.
As harsh as the preceding judgements may be, this is truly a compelling tale. An epidemic of blindness has really two dramatic effects on the personas of individuals. One: they become islands unto themselves, occasionally bumping into people emotionally and physically, in which case they usually die through a combination of hopelessness and self-imposed isolation. Two: they attach themselves to others in ways more intimate than they would if they had sight, inhibition and propriety break down and people can "see" each other for who they really are. Most of the characters in the novel break down easily into either of these groups, with the main characters, the core group, belonging to the second type of people.
Saramago also portrays vividly the depths of barbarism the human spirit is capable of. People who become islands also have a tendency to become increasingly self-centered and selfish when it comes to the distribution of resources, as became evident in the mental asylum when the original group is quarantined. At times, I felt sickened by the behavior and the conditions in which people became accustomed to living, all the more so because I have no doubt that events in reality would unfold pretty much exactly as Saramago wrote them.
The doctor's wife is the one silver lining. What an amazing character! By far the most courageous of any person living in Saramago's world because in spite of the horrors she witnesses, she still does not lose the will to act and to make better the lives of others.
As for the doctor himself: FAIL. That's all I'll say so I don't ruin anything.
I'm sure that the value of this book far outweighs the three stars I gave it. I just found it to be work sometimes and at times I felt my motivation to continue wane. It is an intriguing plot however and there is very good character development. I think it's mainly a matter of style and preference here that made me feel it wasn't "the greatest."
I'm looking forward to the film in September. Perhaps if the narration is pared down, which it will have to be with a visual medium, the story will be even more compelling to me.