Star Gazing by Linda Gillard was one of the best books I read in April. I have wondered many times how I would cope if I were blind. This book goes some way to describing what it must be like – a world where the other senses are heightened, where sound is more distinct and touch and smell of great importance.
Marianne who has been blind from birth, is now widowed and even though she lives with her older sister in Edinburgh she is lonely and angry. Her husband was killed years before in the world’s worst-ever offshore disaster – the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion. By chance she meets Keir, a solitary Highlander and geophysicist, who also works on the oil rigs, but who spends his time on shore at his house on Skye. Marianne describes his voice as
“… a good dark chocolate, the kind that’s succulent, almost fruity, but with a hint of bitterness. He hit his Highland consonants with the same satisfying ‘click’ that good chocolate makes when you snap it in pieces. (The blind are as fetishistic about voices as the sighted are about appearances, so allow me, if you will to describe this man’s voice as chocolate. Serious chocolate. Green & Black’s, not Cadbury’s.) (page 10)
Despite her misgivings and unwillingness to get involved with another oilman, Marianne trusts Keir when he takes her to Skye to ‘show’ her the stars. Keir is kind and gentle but makes little concession to Marianne’s blindness in contrast to other men she has known. At times Marianne’s stubborness is quite exasperating, but she is immensely resourceful. One of the most memorable episodes is when Keir has left her on her own at the house on Skye whilst he goes shopping and Marianne, startled by a fall of snow from the roof loses her bearings. Fearful of hypothermia she struggles desperately through the snow and a frozen pond, before finding the burn that she follows back to safety. I had to hold my breath whilst reading this passage for fear she wouldn’t make it.
The locations in Star Gazing are just beautiful, described so vividly you could almost be there. Marianne falls in love with Keir and with Skye:
I was a fool to think I could resist the island: the scent of daffodils, gorse and primroses; the pitiful bleat of day-old lambs; the symphonic dawn chorus; the knowledge that, a few metres from my muddy, booted feet, grazing in the evening sun (could I actually hear them munching?), were a pair of hares. When they moved away, Keir drew my hand down quickly to the flattened grass where they’d sat, ‘looking like tea-cosies’, and it was warm to the touch. (page 189)
Keir’s comparison between the sights of nature in terms of music is pure genius. This is just one example:
Now if you look to the left of Orion, snapping at his heels you’ll find the brightest star in the sky: Sirius, the Dog Star, Orion’s hunting dog. Sirius is quite close, only eight light years away and it’s forty times more luminous than the sun, so that’s why it’s so bright. Think of … a clarinet, the way it dominates the other instruments of the orchestra. Sirius outshines all the other stars and draws your eye. (page 82)
I loved Star Gazing. It’s not just a love story, it’s also about how we ‘see’ the world, how we interact with other people and how we cope with our disabilities be they physical, emotional or otherwise. The epigraph from William Blake is I think very apt, ‘As a man is, so he sees.’ I liked this so much that I had to find its context:
The tree that moves some to tears of joy
Is in the Eyes of the others only a Green thing
that stands in the way.
Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity,
& by these I shall not regulate my proportions;
& Some Scarce see Nature at all.
But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination,
Nature is Imagination itself.
As a man is, So he Sees.
As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers.
Linda has kindly sent me a signed copy of Star Gazing as a Giveaway book. Leave a comment on this post telling me why this book interests you for a chance to win it in the draw next Monday.