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Sight by Jessie Greengrass. Book review

Book cover of Sight showing the profile of a woman with closed eyes

In Sight, an unnamed narrator guides the reader through her life from experiencing the death of her mother, reflecting on her relationship with her psychoanalyst grandmother, and onto her own motherhood. Within this fictional memoir we encounter different ways of seeing the human body and mind through the discovery of the x-ray, Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis, his relationship and work with his daughter, and the birth of modern surgery and the anatomy of the pregnant woman.

There is a delicacy to the writing which flows so beautifully that the overwhelming sense is of something exquisite to savour. Sight is the type of book to linger over in the same way its unnamed narrator contemplates her life. It requires you, if you are not able to set extended periods of time aside for reading it, to at least give yourself space to consider the text and its content as you go along. Although a relatively short read, Sight is not something you will get the most out of if you race through it.

Within the wonderfully lyrical narrative on what is essentially ordinary life, the writing is conceptually rich. Maybe this should not come as a surprise because the author has a degree in philosophy and this book is an extended stream of thought on not only loss, but responsibility for others. Jessie Greengrass has handled some conceptually difficult subjects in what seems like effortless prose, but which in fact is remarkably difficult to construct effectively.

There is a sense of the author having experienced the events of this unnamed woman’s life because of the accuracy of describing her emotional responses in this extended monologue. Her apparently cold reaction to her mother’s death beautifully describes the type of numbness which comes from the knowledge that you will never again see someone who has been so close to you all your life and about whom you have felt ambivalent. The narrator’s anxiety of whether or not to become a parent is an accurate reflection of the thoughts occupying the mind of any responsible adult who is thinking of having a child.

The excursions into non-fiction writing are interesting interludes in the main narrative and a great deal of ground is covered in a short space of time. In some parts this worked better than others, but it is clear the author is as comfortable writing non-fiction as well as fiction.

Sight is book which can be happily re-read if only to admire the choice of words and how they have been arranged for such a fluid narrative, as well as a meditation on life and what it is to see the world around you with a writer’s eye.

Sight was courtesy of John Murray via NetGalley.