This lovely book goes down like a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day; a delicious treat that leaves you with a warm, satisfied feeling on the inside.
Marianne is blind – she has been so from birth. She deals with her condition through sarcastic humor and determination, and refuses to give in (consciously, at any rate) to anger: “Anger is a place I don’t go, a colour I never wear.” She lives in Edinburgh with her generous sister Louisa who is a charmingly self-deprecating writer of vampire fiction.
Marianne, 45, is stubbornly independent, though she was once married – to Harvey, an oil man who died in an explosion at age 33. Now she meets another oiler, Kier, from the Isle of Skye, whose ability to describe nature by selections of music touches Marianne, and she finds herself falling in love. Louisa describes Kier as “a polymath. A geologist who’s interested in zoology, astronomy and music. He’d never admit it, but he’s also something of a poet, I think.”
Imagine trying to describe color, or nature, or the stars to a blind person. Kier does this for Marianne through music, in a way that will enchant you as it does Marianne:
“If you look east, one of the brightest stars you’ll see is Arcturus. It has a yellow-orange glow. Most stars look cold. Icy. They’d sound like…flutes. No, piccolos. Shrill. Arcturus looks warmer. A cello maybe…It looks like the stove feels when it gives off just a bit of heat. Arcturus glows, but it doesn’t burn or blaze like the sun. It’s like the feeling you might have for an old friend… or an ex-lover, one who still means something to you. Steady. Passionless. On second thoughts, make that a viola…How am I doing?”
He teaches her a whole new way to interact with nature, and she teaches him a whole new way to accept his own differences. Kier is strong, patient, and gentle, but not like most other men. In a way, he is a reflection of the rugged, isolated, but welcoming land he calls home – a land that has vast, dramatic vistas under a rich canopy of twinkling stars.
Marianne has always wanted to know “what twinkling is like.” Kier explains to her, “It’s a kind of a pulse. A gentle throbbing of light. Not like a headache. A beautiful, magical throbbing…”
The characters make no effort to paper over the constant linguistic gaffes of the sighted (“see what I mean?”), nor the ongoing difficulties the sightless have with coping. Yet this is not a morose book. On the contrary, it is humorous, touching, and upbeat. For example, when they are first getting to know each other, Kier asks Marianne if she ever saw the film “Harvey”:
“M. I’ve never seen it.
K. Have you ever seen any film?
M. No. I’ve been blind since birth.
K. Aye, well, you missed a good one there.”
The social commentary is mordant and revealing, both of the protagonists and of ourselves. Marianne says at one point: “Oh, I’m scarcely a woman in the eyes of the world. I don’t see, so I don’t shop. I don’t have children. I don’t even have a man. In the eyes of the world, I’m just blind.”
And blindness can be frightening. An incident when Marianne gets lost will have your heart pounding.
Though the deprivation of sight is part of the story, your other senses will be stretched to the limit in this book, as you learn, along with Marianne and Kier, to “see” through other means. The eloquent results of their efforts to redefine visual reality through aural or tactile sensations are radiant paeans to the creative forces of love. And the love scenes themselves, in particular, are a revelation of sensory communication.
Evaluation: I loved this book. This is a unique author with exceptional talent.
Published by Piatkus, 2008