Blindness by José Saramago

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 326 pages.
Read from October 12 to November 23, 2014

This book is like a sharp slap to the face; it startles and shocks you into coming to terms with whatever problem you’re currently dealing with as I cannot imagine a more horrifying scenario for the human race and condition than the one described in this book.

An epidemic of “white blindness” hits a city. For no reason at all, people become blind and all they can see is a gleaming whiteness. The first to go blind is a man in his car, and then the man who helps him home right after stealing his car. After the first man goes blind he goes to see an optometrist and from there, shortly after his arrival everyone in the reception area along with the doctor also go blind. It is the doctor who notifies authorities of the epidemic but his decision to do so will mean suffering for himself and those who follow him into quarantine. The only person who does not go blind, is the doctor’s wife. She pretends to be blind so that she can accompany her husband and help him while he is quarantined.

The horrors of this rushed quarantined life for all these unnamed characters is challenging to read. The military refuses to get near the area and assist with anything for fear of catching the blindness and their fear quickly leads to death when the amount of food is not enough for the people quarantined. The blind have to find a way to bury their own dead with limited resources to prevent stench and disease. They are given no medical supplies and so some characters succumb to completely curable conditions. The lack of empathy and fear from the military is so hard to fathom. I kept waiting for one of the men to step up and do the right thing for these suffering people in so many scenarios but it never happened. Soon these blind people, who are barely able to make it to the bathroom because they are unable to find it, quickly mess up the bathroom with their bodily functions and when the bathrooms are unbearable they go wherever they can. The smell and filth of quarantined area emanated from the pages of the book. It read so real and their discomfort was unbearable at times. After a fire breaks out in quarantine, the blind group of people realize that the military men are all gone and that their quarantine was for nothing as the blindness has grasped the city. While the main group of blind people work together the selfishness and down right cruelty of people are also shown in this book with some disgusting acts of sexual assault and starvation. These nasty scenes are often balanced with those of human compassion and resilience thankfully and I can say the book ends happily.

While the blind can smell and feel their filth and suffering, none bear it more than the only remaining character with sight, the doctor’s wife. She bears witness to these adults and children who have lost all dignity while they struggle to survive in and out of quarantine. The doctor’s wife becomes the group’s unofficial leader and for the majority of the book the only person that knows she isn’t blind is her husband. There is never an explanation as to why the epidemic occurs or as to why the doctor’s wife was spared when none one else was.

The writing itself is literally like nothing else I’ve ever read before. Saramago does not ever use quotations marks or new paragraphs when a character or a new character starts speaking. Additionally, there isn’t one character that is given a name. This style, was surprisingly not difficult to follow and I was almost always able to tell which character was speaking. I believe the reasoning behind this style is to show a sense of unity in that everyone is suffering the same and going through the same thing and that in a world of blindness names seem useless anyway.

This book isn’t easy to stomach so it may not for everyone, especially if you’d prefer to escape reality with reading rather than come to its harsh realities. I just think it’s important to read books like this once and a while to shock and shake you up in order to serve as a reminder that we are often stronger than we know and that we should be grateful for the many things we take for granted.

Lust (Lust, Money and Murder, #1) by Mike Wells

11745602
ebook, 106 pages.
Read on October 21, 2014.
4/5 stars.

This was one of those books that I definitely judged by the cover at first and admittedly  I wasn’t initially intrigued by it but boy, am I glad I decided to pick this one up anyway!

This book is the first in a three part series and follows the head strong character, Elaine Brogan. In her teens, Elaine wanted to become a model and her father, while struggling for money is anxious to help her. Without knowing it Elaine loses her money to a scam of a modeling agency and when she goes to fight for her money back it’s given to her a bit too easily. The money ends up being fake and ends up getting her father in jail. Now parentless, Elaine deals with her turmoil by deciding that she is going to be come a federal agent in order to serve justice to the man that put her father in jail.

The book goes over the trials that Elaine has to get through in order to become an agent. She ignores her social life and the romance that normally follows young people her age just so she can out all of her focus into being an agent.  Shortly after becoming an agent she is transferred to Bulgaria where she meets her new partner, Nick. He is funny, charming and attractive and Elaine finds her emotions finally be stirred after ignoring them for so long. However as the story unfolds, she is finds there is a lot more going on with the assignment that she and Nick are working on than she first realized and now has to make some very difficult decisions.

Elaine is awesome. She is tough, resilient, tactful, assertive and very smart. Elaine’s story grabbed me right from the beginning and I was so anxious to know what happened next that I read the book in one sitting. The book does end in a bit of a cliff hanger but it’s a brilliant ploy by the author to get the reader to read the remaining books in the series.

If you love mystery or spy novels than I would highly recommend picking up this quick read!

Click here to get a free copy of this book from the author’s website!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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4/5 stars.
Paperback, 181 pages.
Read from October 08 to 09, 2014.

Gaiman, we meet again! It has been just over two years since I read anything by this fantastic author so I was quite happy when TNBBC picked this one for their Halloween read this month. A what a suiting pick it was…

This book is dark and has the capabilities of making your skin crawl, it is however also whimsical. Just like childhood. There is only one other person that I can think of that writes about childhood this well and that’s Roald Dahl. Both Gaiman and Dahl seem to be able to recall so well what it’s like to be a child, including the dark side of it. Growing up is scary and it’s hard but it’s also wonderful. While Dahl is no longer with us, I’m thankful that there are authors like Gaiman around that can still make us feel like children.

After returning to his childhood home after attending a funeral, the unnamed protagonist recalls the time he use to spend with his neighbour and childhood friend, Lettie Hempstock. He ventures over to his old neighbours and finds Lettie’s mother and recalls that Lettie has gone away to “Australia”.  The protagonist initially remembers very little of his childhood but recalls a pond which Lettie used to say was her ocean and decides to venture down there to recollect some childhood memories. Sitting by the “pond” the man begins to remembers , it started with him losing his room as a boy so that his parents could let it out for some additional income. The opal miner had stayed with them, but after losing all the money that his friends and family gave him to gambling, he stole the family car and committing suicide in it. This death causes something unnatural to be released in to the world. While out with his father to retrieve the car, is when he meets Lettie. He is taken back to her home and introduced to her mother and grandmother.

The unnatural spirit that was released when the opal miner died believes that money will make people happy but it’s leaving money for people in very horrible ways. When the narrator wakes up choking on a coin, he seeks help from Lettie. The boy quickly comes to realize that there is something very special about the Hempstock women and when he asks about their exact age they never give him a concise answer. The women decide that the spirit must be dealt with and brought back to its own world. Against her mother and grandmother’s discretion, Lettie convinces them to let her bring the young protagonist along with her to banish the spirit. Lettie tells the boy that he must not touch ANYTHING while he is in the spirit world and to hold her hand the entire time. The boy fails at this only once while in the surreal spirit world.

After the spirit has been banished, the boy returns home from his adventure believing that everything has returned to normal. He finds however, that he has a gaping black hole in the bottom of his foot in which he can feel something moving around. He pulls out a worm from the hole in his foot and puts it down a drain, though he didn’t get all of it. The boy deals with the incident the way a curious child would, but as a reader this scene is has some serious gross factors and leaves you reeling!

The morning after removing the worm, the boy’s parent’s introduce him to Ursula, their new nanny. Everyone seems to love Ursula, except for the boy. He knows something is not quite right with her. She won over his sister with treats and adoration and his father with too much adoration (complete with some scenes no young boy should ever have to witness his parent doing) all while his mother becomes less present in the home and this is when is nightmare starts to begin…

Sounds unnerving and awesome right?! It really is. Gaiman never lets you down. Gaiman, like in many of his other novels, likes to have mythological connections to his stories because in a way, it keeps them all connected. For example, Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother sound like the triple goddess of mythology: the maiden, the mother and the crone. Equally, Ursula seems to represent the whore. The whole novel seems to revolve around similar dichotomies, such as childhood and adulthood as well as what we perceive as real and what we imagine.

Another interesting item that’s worth noting, just off some quick research, apparently some of the incidents in the book are in relation to some experiences that Gaiman had as a child, for example Gaiman’s father’s car was actually stolen and the thief did commit suicide in it.

This novel is less than 200 pages so it makes for nice quick read and I think you’ll find yourself being properly creeped out and just in time for Halloween. You may even find yourself recollecting on your own wacky childhood adventures. A must-read for any adult that still has a child-like spirit.