Sight By Jessie Greengrass John Murray February 22nd 2018
It seemed, at times, an act of profound selfishness, to have a child so that I might become a parent; but selfish, too, to have a child and stay the same, or not to have one – unless the only honest choice would have been to try to become this kinder version of myself without the need to bring another into it …Sight is about X-rays, psychoanalysis, and the origins of modern surgery. It is about being a parent, and being a child. Fiercely intelligent, brilliantly written and suffused with something close to forgiveness, it is a novel about how we see others and how we imagine ourselves.
Sight is one of those novels that critics absolutely love but some readers may find difficult to like and after reading I can completely understand why.
It is definitely not an easy novel to read, requiring concentration from the reader, but don’t let that put you off for this is a novel that is complex, thought provoking and extremely well written.
We never know the name of the main character, only that she is pregnant with her second child but what we do learn is the thought process she went through before finally deciding to have children
Told in three parts Greengrass digs deep into the psyche of the narrator, analysing her relationship with her mother as she nursed her through terminal illness, as well as her relationship with her partner. You could distinctly hear the cogs in her mind turn, as she agonised over her decision and wondered if this is what would await her child, if it was right to bring a child in to a world where they might also have to bear such pain and grief. She also has to consider her own suitability to be a parent, will she be a good Mum, will her partner be the Father she would want him to be?
Her thoughts ran deeper still and Greengrass skilfully interwove the history of three medical pioneers to try and show the many layers that make up our bodies and minds. I found their stories fascinating. I knew little of Rontgen, the discoverer of X-rays or John Hunter, eminent surgeon and scientist. Their work was truly remarkable and John Hunter’s work into pregnant women ground breaking. Sigmund Freud, eminent neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis completed the trio. I loved the way Greengrass was able to link their discoveries with the narrators own situation, as she tried to understand who she was.
I could the understand the narrator’s turmoil, but I did find her slightly annoying and selfish, particularly in her relationship with her partner. I think perhaps this was intentional, to strip back her decision making process, to fully illustrate her angst and turmoil, her childhood and early adult life playing a big part.
The writing is superb and not surprisingly, Sight has been shortlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction.
As you can probably tell it is a novel that I found extremely hard to review. The themes and meanings within the novel are complex and I found it difficult to put in to words my own thoughts, but I have tried my best even if they are not what the author intended them to be!
It is a novel that will not be for everyone, but I thought it was unique, thought provoking and brilliant.
Thank you to John Murray and Bookbridgr for a copy of the book to read and review
About the author
Jessie Greengrass was born in 1982. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and London, where she now lives with her partner and child. An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize and a Somerset Maugham Award, and was shortlisted for the PFD/Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Sight is her first novel.