Last night I finished Linda Gillard's novel, Star Gazing (after raising an eyebrow at the spelling of the title. It surely has to be Stargazing or maybe Star-gazing. People must have told her this ad nauseam, but anyway, it's published now.)
Linda Gillard is a Bookcrosser. She was a most engaging speaker at the BC Global Convention in London last year. I picked up a couple of her books there (still unread), only not Star Gazing. But a recent review by another BCer/LJer made me get a copy of Star Gazing and dive straight in. The effort was well rewarded.
Star Gazing is a romantic novel, not my usual stuff. Pride & Prejudice established the romantic novel as a genre, but also set an impossible standard for it. It's like somebody inventing the high jump and promptly setting the world record at 9 feet. Many romantic authors don't even try and are content to aim low, sometimes very low. But Star Gazing was exceptional, not least in choosing a love interest in which both are 40-something and widowed, one sighted, one blind.
Marianne Fraser lives with her sister, Louisa, a successful author of Scottish vampire novels, in Edinburgh. Marianne's husband, Harvey, was killed in the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster in July 1988. One day Marianne drops her keys outside her flat. A passer-by helps her find them. They talk. He is Keir ("no, not Hardy") Harvey, an oil company scientist. His work makes him disappear now and then, for weeks at a time, to remote locations like the Arctic. But before long, Marianne has agreed to take a trip with Keir to Skye...
Linda G. is hugely successful in her portrayal of What It's Like To Be Blind. Marianne makes spatial connections with her world through touch, smell, sound, music, counting steps, memory, observation of small details. More than once Keir applauds Marianne's "Sherlock" deductions that seem simple, even trite in replay, but which the average sighted person would have missed.
Then there are the obstacles a sighted and a blind person face in establishing a social relationship, a friendship, never mind a sexual connection. As Marianne wryly observes, blind woman often find that sighted men who show interest in them fall into one of three categories: A) the Romantics, B) the Sexually Insecure, or C) the Perverts. (I guess it might just be possible to belong to all three!) Marianne notes that the common factor is that all expect a blind woman to be grateful for their attentions. She adds: "That's what makes me a second-class citizen. Not being blind. Blindness is just a series of practical problems for which one eventually finds a solution." Magnificent lines.
Fortunately, Keir Harvey is a bluff, practical Highlander who looks at life in precisely the same way. He is adept in using analogies of sound and music to express for Marianne the experience of seeing. Keir is not only a New Man but also her ideal Prince Hunk. Of course he has his "Oh really, men!" moments: "He's a Highlander. Highlanders don't do feelings." Actually, it's not just Highland men who are like that. Anyway, somehow Marianne and Keir take tentative steps towards each other...
No more spoilers. There are some sharp twists and turns along the way. In the interest of balance, Linda G. gives Marianne some "Oh really, women!" moments. At one point Louisa felt like slapping her, even if Marianne's action was "intellectually and morally unassailable". I wanted to slap Marianne too; she was being outrageously insensitive and stupid. But it's quite a novel that makes you feel like hitting a blind woman!
Emotional Geology next. Meanwhile I'm going to pass Star Gazing to MrsTroll. I feel sure she'll enjoy it too.