Suppose you are holding an open house or sponsoring a public reception. Are you in suspense as they wait for guests to arrive? What if for some reason or other no guests show up? Now, imagine the turmoil at a polling place when on Election Day no one shows up to vote (and this happens in a foreign country where voting is required by law). This is the intriguing setup for José Saramago’s novel Ensayo sobre la lucidez, (Seeing).
In the opening scene of the novel, Seeing, it is raining heavily, but the election workers have managed to staff the polling place and all is ready for the voting to begin. They wait and wait in vain, but no one arrives. Finally, just as the polls are about to close all the registered citizens arrive at once. The strange day seems to have ended normally, but next day as the votes are counted it is discovered that everyone cast a blank ballot. The remainder of the novel is about the government’s response to this amazing challenge by the voters.
The Portuguese Nobel winner Saramago is known for the mind bending situations in his novels; in Blindness, for example, everyone in the country is going blind; imagine how startling that would be. However, when I read Saramago’s novels, once the initial shock of the situation wears off I lose interest in the rest of the novel. Saramago is one of my favorite novelists to “start and not finish”. I still have two of his novels that I have only half read: The Stone Raft and Las intermitencias de la muerte (Death With Interruptions). What is it about these books that seemed so promising, but the promise fades as you read, and, finally, the book is put away unfinished?
His novel Blindness was also a problem for me. I confess that I did not finish that book either, and, moreover, I seem to have lost or misplaced it. Seeing is the sequel to Blindness, and some characters appear in both books. Fortunately, finishing Blindness is not a requisite to enjoying the reading of Seeing.
The plot of Seeing engaged my imagination and I finished the novel, Hooray!
The front matter of the Spanish translation has an interesting epigraph:
Aullemos, dijo el perro.
LIBRO DE LAS VOCES
(Carto: We will howl, said the dog)
The citation, like those in many of Saramago’s novels, appears to be ficticious, but never the less it is appropriate for the novel.
Day 16: Ensayo sobre la lucidez, (Seeing) (José Saramago, translation by Pilar del Rio) (2004).