The great hindrance of forty-something Edinburghian Marianne Fraser’s life has not been her blindness, nor her being widowed in her twenties. Rather it’s been not allowing the fact that she has been blind since birth define her. Instead of taking offense to the cliché seeing idioms such as “watch it, are you blind? See what I mean? May I see that?” – after all the world is defined by sight – Marianne uses her sharp wit to dodge pity and normalize herself. So when Keir Harvey shows up on her doorstep of the flat she shares with her older sister Louise, she knows she’s met her match. Not because he shares the name Harvey with her late husband or he works as an oil riger, but because Keir in his matter-of-fact, nearly insensitive sensibility feels no obligation to apologize for her blindness. Their immediate repartee reaches beyond sight jokes to the senses that create Marianne’s world: sound and touch. Keir has the uncanny talent for translating visual images into classical musical scores or opera solos so that for the first time, Marianne can envision the grandeur of nature and the masterpieces of mankind like cathedrals and skyscrapers. She’s not sure what to think when after what feels like a relatively brief acquaintance and an undetermined relationship Keir invites her to stay at his home on the secluded island of Skye. However she can’t turn down such a chance for adventure, bring what it may.
After recently reading and loving Linda Gillard’s nearly perfect first novel Emotional Geology, I knew I wanted to read Star Gazing. And I meant definitely sooner rather than later. The refreshingly lyrical and vivid writing combined with the rugged beauty of the Scottish isles just gets under your skin. The characters, too, stand out as one-of-a-kind in their colorful personalities and tough cores. There is also a certain strength in the sparse, pointed, and witty dialogue which is riveting. It certainly doesn’t hurt that her books are so intriguingly titled or that the starry cover art for Star Gazing is striking.
I’m happy to report that Star Gazing meets all of the above. Again, the author’s featured a rather rare type of protagonist, this time someone who’s never had the gift of sight. This may have made me realize my knowledge of music and sound is sorely lacking and my senses are quite dull but it never failed to be an interesting and unique point-of-view. Without literally being in Marianne’s shoes, I connected to her small, isolated existence. Even though she has no comprehension of color, I found her world to be very colorful. I love what she says about water as it relates to color:
It’s a paradox. Things that look colorless to you are my artist’s palette. Rain is the only thing apart from my sense of touch that gives me any sense of three dimensions. Water falling from the sky defines shape, size, and quality by the sounds it makes when it lands.
Water colorless? Not for me.
Keir also stands out in his uniquely brilliant comprehension of sound and the environment. I love Marianne and him together and found their stay on Skye a real treat. I flew through the end of Marianne’s visit, their navigations of past wounds and future possibilities were so compelling. I didn’t realize how spoiled I was for the first half of the book until I finished the last half. It was if all Marianne and Keir’s time together was already spent. In Keir’s long absences on oil digs, Marianne lets doubt and fear slowly take over and the times they are together felt stilted. To a certain point I understood her deep-rooted feelings of expected loss and heartache, much of which originates from her first marriage. But after awhile I couldn’t help but feel a disconnect between Marianne’s true feelings and her actions. It was frustrating seeing her make choices with which I disagreed or what I saw as unnecessarily grief-inflicting. That said I still flew through and enjoyed the latter half– particularly the subplot with her sister Louise, who is a vampire novelist, and the fling with her much younger Goth assistant Garth. Entertaining, funny stuff. I’m also randomly wondering how Keir’s oft-used expression “Och” sounds and if there’s an American English equivalent. Star Gazing was impossible to put down and I liked it enough to recommend. I’m left seriously interested in getting my hands on A Lifetime Burning and any future novels by Gillard.