What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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by Jose Saramago

Field-Tested by Kevin O’Cuinn

in Connemara, Ireland

I read Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness in Connemara. It was the only book I read in my ten weeks there, despite the shelves being heavy with great books, despite time being the one thing I had plenty of.

I’d gone to Connemara to act as a caretaker for a hostel undergoing renovations over winter. There’d be no guests. I’d have to answer the phone and forward enquiries to the hostel’s office in Galway; close windows and lock doors at night, open and unlock them in the morning; check rat traps and when necessary reset them. I’d have to be on site when the workmen arrived, be on site when the workmen left. The workmen, all of them Slovakians, kept to themselves. Their English was better than my Slovakian would ever be but any conversation with them was hard work.

The hostel was built on and included the remains of a small hamlet which was deserted during the plague that was the Irish Potatoe Famine. It’s not known what became of the people who called the hamlet home, if they were amongst those who made it to the promised land that was America, if they survived the coffin ships, or if they died like others, at the side of the road with grass stains around their mouths.

The Connemara winter was fierce and dangerous and breathtaking. I rarely ventured further than the grounds of the hostel. The days were full of storms, they battered the hills from my ringside seat in the breakfast room, which also became my lunch and dinner room, and after the internet and the TV gave up their respective ghosts (three days after my arrival) it simply became ‘my room’ and I set up a bed under the window which opened to arguably the best view in all of Ireland — the Killary Fiord and Mull Ri, the most imposing mountain in Connaught. The nearest town (town, I mean pub) was four miles away. I didn’t have a car.

Saramago’s work is rich in analogy and parable and Blindness is no exception. One by one, the inhabitants of a country lose their sight, with the exception of one woman. The horrors portrayed frightened the wits out of me. The novel is highly moralistic and imagines the unimaginable — how low mankind will sink if left to its vices. With the exception of the miracle that is the one woman who remains untouched by the plague of blindness, there is little or no redemption, no saving grace, no lights at the end of the tunnel. It was the horrors of the book, I think, that compelled me to return to it, to see how low the author imagines us falling. When the end approached, of the book and of the ten long weeks, I rushed to finish the last pages. I was determined to leave it where I had found it, to replace it on the shelf.

Kevin O’Cuinn comes from Dublin, Ireland; lives in Frankfurt, Germany; and co-edits fiction for Word Riot. His blog is Kevsville.

Buy Blindness