Book Review: Sight by Jessie Greengrass

Sight by Jessie Greengrass is best read in one sitting and it is a debut worth sitting down for.

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Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 – Sight by Jessie Greengrass

Don’t expect to know the name of your narrator.  Don’t expect to feel connected to your narrator.  Don’t expect huge amounts of dialogue or action.

Don’t let that put you off…

This was by far one of the most powerful books I have read in a long while.

Greengrass’ protagonist is a young woman pregnant with her second child contemplating the defining moments and relationships in her life.

For me, the most engaging parts of the novel is where the protagonist remembers the immediate effect her mother’s death had on her:

I dreamed that she wasn’t dead at all, and had only gone away without telling me

Despite the shock and huge she reflects that it wasn’t as traumatic and hard hitting as she had expected it may be.  This following passage describes grief as the most basic realisation that life truly does go on:

I had thought that loss would be dramatic, that it would be a kind of exercise, when instead it was the emptiness of everything going on as before and nothing working as it ought.

I’ve never read anything quite as poetic.  Subtle yet incredibly moving. This continues into her descriptions of her partner and their relationship.  She surmises that she seems to ‘feel love only in absence’.  This understated description of love not only toward her partner but also toward her mother and her grandmother continues throughout the book.  The narrator doesn’t seem to have an issue with this and nor is she looking for another way to show her love.  It is merely said.

There isn’t a lot that happens in this book.  Instead, the reader is taken along the protagonist’s internal monologue and as I have alluded to, the narrator never really lets you in.  Just as you think you are getting close, she interrupts her thoughts with snippets of scientific marvel.  First we learn of how the X-Ray was discovered then onto Einstein and finishing off with how the world was introduced to the miracle of birth following dissecting deceased pregnant women.  Interestingly all three things that you wouldn’t normally be able to see bones, interpretation of thoughts and dreams and the evolution of a human child.  In some cases, previously just as invisible and intangible as love.

Despite the fact that the book is written in the first person, I never really felt connected to the narrator.  She seemed to push the reader away and keeps you at arms length.  To have done anything different would have betrayed the character and for that Greengrass ought to be applauded.

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