Category: Literary Experimental Fiction
Author: Jessie Greengrass
I struggle to write a review that adequately captures the complexity of this 193 page book. Sight, very simplistically, is a pregnant woman’s ambivalence towards motherhood rising from her own unconventional upbringing. It slides seamlessly between the narrator’s life and the lives of historical figures responsible for the discovery of X-rays, the emergence of psychoanalysis and the birth of modern surgery for reasons that gradually become apparent. A smooth sinusoid – alternating between fact & fiction. The writing is incredibly fluid, poetic and stylised – long form sentences that flow like uninterrupted thoughts.
The 1st section delves into the life of Rontgen who discovered the X-Rays. Mirroring that, Jessie Greengrass creates an X-ray vision of her character. You’re privy to her most intimate, personal thoughts without actually understanding her as a person (you don’t even know her name). And this creates a very interesting juxtaposition between ‘not knowing’ the character and ‘knowing’ them. The discovery of X-Rays, a play on the ‘Sight’ of what is within – the sense of wonder in revealing what’s beneath the surface.
The 2nd part explores the development of the theory of psychoanalysis. The personal link to the narrator being the fact that her grandmother was a practitioner herself. The relationship between the narrator and her grandmother, Dr. K, feels incredibly detached and impersonal. The dynamics between her mother, Dr. K and herself feel almost like 3 planetary bodies that exert a gravitational pull on one another but have their own distinct orbits. The impact of this experience on the narrator’s own perception of motherhood made apparent.
The third and final part, feels most personal and emotionally resonant of all. You flip between John Hunter’s attempts to set modern surgery on a scientific footing, and the feelings the narrator harbours towards her unborn child. Her ambiguity that pans the entire book gains its much needed exposition toward the end, where she lays bear all her impending anxieties, vulnerabilities, her fears. The epiphany when she holds her newborn for the first time, and all the built-up dilemma dissolving in that intimately innocuous instant.
Sight isn’t for everyone. There is barely any character development, and there’s only a slim thread of a narrative. But it’s one of the finest pieces of experimental literary fiction I’ve ever read.