It’s madness to do this on the basis of reading just two short novels, but if you’re looking for beaut books to read, you should keep an eye on the winners of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. I read Julie Proudfoot’s The Neighbour well over a year ago but it’s still memorable, (see my review) and now I find The End of Seeing is exceptionally good too. Somebody at Seizure is very good at finding very good, very interesting stories for us to read!
(BTW Seizure’s Welcome to Orphancorp by Morlee Jane Word won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults too, and I have Jane Rawson’s Formaldehyde on the TBR but I haven’t read those two yet).
The End of Seeing is the story of Ana, whose photojournalist partner is missing, believed drowned in a ferry crossing on the Mediterranean Sea. There has been a funeral, but she doesn’t believe he is dead. It’s been more than a year, and her kind, well-meaning friends and family are caught between supporting a fantasy that he might still be alive and the need for her to face reality. Alone, she sets off for Europe on his trail…
(As if the loss of Nick is not enough, Ana is twice bereaved, but I am not going to spoil this carefully constructed novella by saying any more than that).
The story – part compelling mystery, part meditation on grief – is written in two voices: Ana’s first person conflicted thoughts and memories, her puzzled theories about what might have happened, her clever connection of clues, and her observations about what she discovers as she retraces Nick’s movements from Tunisia to the coast of Italy – and also Ana speaking in the second person to Nick, sharing every moment with him and telling him everything, including the things she’d never had the courage to say when he was still with her.
You were kind; this is what I would have said at your funeral if I had trusted myself to say anything at all; such an old-fashioned virtue and yet. You had a wisdom that you didn’t seem to have earned. You watched the rest of us move and had patience for our faults, like a quiet deity. Your own weaknesses were the only ones you could not forgive. (p.123).
The burden of grief is ever-present, and sometimes she gives into despair:
I wonder, with all the sadness, how anyone ever gets over anything, how life can possibly go on when there’s so much to drag it backwards towards what is broken, what has soured, and what is lost. (p.100)
But what lifts this story out of the ordinary is the careful way that the author shows that disappearance is no unusual thing. Guided by the images she has developed from his camera, Ana learns that there are places behind the tourist façades of Europe where people go missing all the time. There may well be a family far away that cares, but people are weary of human misery. They ask no questions, and they turn aside. Collins doesn’t let her readers sit in judgement on these people either:
‘The truth is not simple. You have lost someone, but I have seen many people live who otherwise would have died out there – in Africa, or in the sea. Some people need to have answers. I hope you find yours; only, don’t make things worse for the people who already have nothing. You can make this worse or you can go away. You have your answers; that is what you came for.’ (p. 85)
There is a big picture in this exquisite novel, one that shows an author with an all-too-rare awareness of our wider world.
Author: Christy Collins
Title: The End of Seeing
Publisher: Seizure, 2015
Source: Kingston Library. (I had actually bought this for my Kindle, but when I saw it as a real book, I didn’t hesitate!)
Collins’ themes: the sacred, the environment, travel and displacement, and the fragility of human relationships.
Christy Collins blogs here.