Sunday 18 August 2019

Sight, Jessie Greengrass

Greengrass’ debut novel is unapologetically introspective as our narrator questions whether or not she should become a mother. Her decision is known from the start and so it is not that you wait to find out but instead experience all the self-doubt and moral questioning that went into the outcome. In some ways her reservations seem linked to the death of her own mother. The dependence and forced physical intimacy toward the end had a profound effect on her and the absence of a maternal figure that follows makes her question herself. Without a mother she forgets how to be a daughter, something she doesn’t notice until she receives the care of her partner’s mother.

Her relationship with her maternal grandmother has also impacted her deeply. Known only as Doctor K, she advocated for an examined life, sitting with the narrator as a child, teaching her to reflect on dreams and her internal life. She encouraged her own daughter similarly, resulting in the extinguishing of dreams, a fact the narrator has always found sad. The novel is interspersed with sections on historic figures. The most obvious parallels are with that of Sigmund and Anna Freud in which the father psychoanalyses his own daughter with seeming beneficial results. Many readers would question the moral reasoning behind a parent exposing their own child to their analysis, and the narrator finds connections to her own moral musings.

Many of the historic sections deal with consent or the lack thereof, and the narrator torments herself with the thought of bringing another person into being without the chance of them having given consent. She feels keenly the responsibility that in choosing to become a mother she must make herself the best than she can, a task she believes she has failed before her baby has even been born, putting her own comfort first. This guilt and self-doubt do not seem to fade with time. She notes that she is only truly able to love in absence – when she is with her daughter she craves time to herself yet when she gets it wishes she were with her. Many of the thoughts and behaviours she chastises herself for appear to be experiences common to parents.

A refreshing, honest look at motherhood in the modern world. In generations past it would be hard to imagine a book such as this being published, for it to be acknowledged that motherhood is not necessarily the obvious choice and that it is just that, a choice. Greengrass creates a sense of place with great skill and the tangents into the lives of real people are both interesting and add depth. An unsettling but thoughtful read that opens the way for considered conversation.

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