Intense stuff

I was a little mad at myself on Wednesday when we received our novel study books. The weekend before, I’d finally cracked open Blindness, by José Saramago, and although I was only about 30 or 40 pages in by then, they were much too gripping for me to put down the book and start on The Catcher In the Rye, which was the book that I chose/was assigned to me for our novel study/book club unit, but I didn’t want to read both at the same time. Therefore, for both of the blocks allotted for us to read this past week, I pulled Blindness rather than The Catcher In the Rye out of my backpack, slouched down in my chair, and lost myself in the world Saramago created within the pages of the book.

Whenever I had spare time that week, I’d put on my “Favourites” playlist on iTunes and lie back on my couch and read. Most of the need was that the book held me fast to the couch, that I had to try quite hard to get the covers together to put it down, but a part of me was also racing time, because I knew that I needed to finish Blindness before I’d allow myself to open my assigned novel study book.

Last night, as I attempted to read late into the night, my eyelids fought the desire to finish off the last 50 or so pages of the book, but, after nearly falling asleep multiple times, I gave up, and after putting the book on my night table, fell asleep almost instantly. Not surprisingly, when I woke up this morning, the first thought that entered my mind was to grab Blindness and lose myself once more in the thrilling and thought-provoking pages of the book that now sits so innocently beside me. As the pages I had left to read dwindled, I began to wonder how the book would end. It seemed to me at that point that I was only beginning to learn of the story of the world within the book, but as my eyes flashed occasionally to the page numbers at the bottom of each page, I began to anticipate some sort of philosophical ending.

I was met with surprise when I flipped to the last page of the book, but when I finally finished that last page, chapter, and story of the book, I was left with a feeling of being in the presence of some holy being. As I usually do when I finish reading a book, I closed it and stared for a minute at the cover, and contemplated everything that happened within it. Having read it, I wholeheartedly agree with the quote prefacing the summary on the back cover, “‘This is an important book, one that is unafraid to face all of the horrors of the century.’ -The Washington Post”. It was an intense book, but I feel like there was a lot in it that I missed, or that I just can’t understand right now. I’m sure this is a book that I’ll remember in a few years, and when I do, I hope to read it again and get a lot more out of it. Nonetheless, when I finished it, the first thought that entered my mind was “Wow”.

The Catcher In the Rye sits atop Blindness on my desk right now, and within its plain covers and courier text, I hope to find that same feeling when I finish it. Now that I’ve given myself permission to open it, I get the feeling I’ll forget all about my iPod on the way to and from school this week.

4 thoughts on “Intense stuff

  1. Greetings from Dalian China!

    “Intense” is a great description of ‘Blindness’. There are two books that I’ve read in my life that disturbed me in such a way that I felt they literally shook my faith in humanity. ‘Blindness’ was the first and ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood was the second.

    Both books looked at just how dark (for lack of a better work) ‘we’ can be, and they made me question if ‘goodness’ would prevail if our society as we know it were to meet with a major catastrophe? I’d like to think so, but reading these two books shook the foundations of that belief.

    I’ve never read ‘The Catcher In the Rye’, please share your thoughts after reading it.

    ps. Blindness was much better and less disturbing than Oryx and Crake IMHO

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  3. I want to say that Melissa was telling you about Blindness: “I started that book on a Friday afternoon, and don’t think I moved until I finished it on Sunday morning.” Likewise, I remember feeling as though I was living inside the harrowing tension of the story for as long as I was stuck between its covers (in fact, now that I bring it up, I can remember doing my student-teaching practicum while I was reading Saramago for the first time, and basically telling anyone within earshot at Pinetree that, “I’m reading the most intense book right now. You’ve got to read it!”).

    The action and suspense is often so gripping that much of the philosophy, or underlying purpose of the story is so smoothly integrated that I think I missed a fair bit on my first pass; I haven’t been back to Blindness yet though, and I suspect that this is something to do with the horrific truths inherent in the metaphor of the story: that to be our own judges and juries, most people do not hold themselves to a high standard of justice.

    I have to agree with Mr. Truss, that this is none too flattering an idea to be presented with as a human at the dawn of a new century. But to overcome these realities – and discover the hope in a grave situation – we must confront them head on, and with an awareness of what we are up against.

    Similarly, a novel that presents a bleak, bleak world is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Road, wherein a father and son traverse the scorched earth of a post-apocalyptic America, fighting for warmth, food and shelter in a world left with almost none. Many of the people I’ve talked to about the Road found it “too depressing,” or “dark” to enjoy – a friend recently told me she sat finishing the novel at the New West Skytrain station, looking up at the brown Fraser River and the ashes of clouds hanging in the valley, and was overcome with a life-meets-art moment that was not altogether inspiring.

    But I think that both The Road, and Blindness – and probably Oryx & Crake, though I haven’t yet had the pleasure – offer some of the only hope in a world fraught with our modern predicaments: that we must soldier on, even if we are the only ones.

    To keep his son walking toward the ocean, where he (perhaps naively) believes life will become more accommodating, the father in the Road repeats his mantra, one that on my darker days I try to remember: “We are carrying the fire.”

    Even though many people may have long given up on such a notion, we will all need to carry the flame if we are to know a future with hope. Dark as they may be, novels like Blindness, the Road, and much of Atwood’s oeuvre, remind me that there are others who realize the commitment this will require.

    Glad to hear the story resonated with you, Kiko!

    Here are some interesting reads:

    Saramago’s Nobel Acceptance Speech: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1998/saramago-speech_po.html

    As well as his Nobel Lecture, “How Characters Became the Masters and the Author Their Apprentice:” http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1998/lecture-e.html

    In a passage that is at once beautiful and heartbreaking, Saramago speaks of his grandparents, from whom he credits in passing him “the fire:”

    “It was only many years after, when my grandfather had departed from this world and I was a grown man, I finally came to realise that my grandmother, after all, also believed in dreams. There could have been no other reason why, sitting one evening at the door of her cottage where she now lived alone, staring at the biggest and smallest stars overhead, she said these words: “The world is so beautiful and it is such a pity that I have to die”. She didn’t say she was afraid of dying, but that it was a pity to die, as if her hard life of unrelenting work was, in that almost final moment, receiving the grace of a supreme and last farewell, the consolation of beauty revealed. She was sitting at the door of a house like none other I can imagine in all the world, because in it lived people who could sleep with piglets as if they were their own children, people who were sorry to leave life just because the world was beautiful; and this Jerónimo, my grandfather, swineherd and story-teller, feeling death about to arrive and take him, went and said goodbye to the trees in the yard, one by one, embracing them and crying because he knew he wouldn’t see them again.”

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