Sight by Jessie Greengrass
This Wednesday, our Man Booker shadow panel will be releasing our 2018 longest predictions. Sight by Greengrass has been getting some buzz and made it onto the Women’s Fiction shortlist. Contributor Nicole and I both read the book in anticipation that it might make the list. Keep reading to find out what we thought.
Thank you to Crown Publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest review.
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
Release date in the US: August 2018
Reviewed by: Jen and Nicole
Find it/buy it here: Sight
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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.
Jen’s Review: Sight was a bit of a mixed bag for me and as a result it’s a book I find hard to review. It’s hard to deny that the book has many moments of true brilliance. I found myself becoming quite emotional multiple times throughout the book. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel that captures the dynamic between mothers and children quite so well as did this book. I admittedly teared up at the sheer ability this author had to use quiet moments to draw deeply profound insights.
When my daughter throws her arms with thoughtless grace around my neck, I respond with an agonizing gratitude that I must hide from her in case, feeling the heft of it, she might become encumbered and not do what she was born for – which is to go away from me. It is a balance – to show enough love that she is sure of me but not so much that she stays close: the fact but not the size of it – and it is an effort, as I encourage her to disentangle herself from my gaze, to discard the aching want to have her back —
My favorite moments in the book were the deeply personal moments of self-reflection of the protagonist’s relationships with her mother, grandmother, and child. In many ways, I felt like this author was inside my head, drawing out all my experiences of being a daughter and becoming a parent.
There have been days, nights; but last time she was still fat with babyhood and didn’t have the power to withhold. Then she still hung from me, all mouth and fingers, and treated my presence as an unconsidered right, neither looked for nor enjoyed but only expected so that to leave was a respite, a moment when I could feel myself briefly to be whole. Now she has become something else, a mind inside a body, separate, and it seems to me that the extent of that separation from me is the extent to which I cannot bear to be apart from her. I had thought that I would continue to fall backwards into singularity as to a norm from which my deviation was temporary, and that without her I would be myself again, whole and undivided; but instead I am half-made, a house with one wall open to the wind.
Interestingly while I was reading this book, I found myself engaging in more self-reflection and thinking about both my own mother and my daughter. Unfortunately, while I loved parts of the books, I was excruciatingly bored with other parts. Greengrass is clearly a talented author and some of her sentences are dazzling. But other sentences feel overwrought, overly academic, and slightly pretentious. Take this section for example where she describes morning sickness…
All morning, caught up in the business of appointments, I had forgotten to feel sick, but now it returned, the constant queasy ostinato over which rose exhaustion’s disharmonious cadence, a progression paused before the point of resolution, aching forwards.
Sentences like these, irritated me to no end. I was stunned with the beauty and intelligence of the book but the majority of the time I felt bored and impatient with the writing. The inclusion of the other sections were clever in the ways in which all parts were tied together but they felt overly academic. In sum, I think the author is brilliant. That this was a debut is pretty astonishing. I think it will most likely make the Man Booker longlist so it will be making my prediction list.
Nicole’s review: I was SUPER excited to read this book. I begged anybody who would listen to get me a copy because there was so much buzz about this being (minimally) Man Booker shortlisted. I was skeptical about the Booker at first because I find awards seem to love books I consider pretentious and boring, but I’ve had fantastic luck the past few years with Booker – the longlist producing many favorites.
Well – I got ahead of myself with this one. It’s not on any list yet, and it is pretentious and boring and also brilliant and interesting. But for me the balance tipped to boring.
I don’t even know how to explain the brilliance of some of the thought processes in this book. The author describes grief in a way that was revelatory – beautiful – relatable and raw. I even found the parts about the guy who developed the X-Ray interesting.
At a certain point though, I completely lost interest. It was either stream of consciousness blather or historical facts about some seemingly random person and I just didn’t care if I finished or not. That point, by the way, was 62% in …
A friend who is more intelligent than me ultimately explained the connection between it all and that in itself was also brilliant, and probably a little bit pretentious too.
There’s no doubt Greengrass is smart and talented. There was probably a brilliant essay lost in this novel.
We want to hear from you. Is this a book you think you would enjoy? Have you read it? What did you think?
We think this book will appeal to literary fiction readers who enjoy cerebral books with a philosophical/psychological focus, and who enjoy stream of consciousness.