This is an engaging yet incredibly insightful fictional tale of two women who meet at a neurological centre. Nova was born blind, but at 32 years of age has had an operation to give her sight. The other woman, Kate, is recovering from a head injury.
It has a full mix of emotions, from the incremental creep of fear from being in a controlling and abusive relationship, to therapeutic effect of embracing a new friendship, to romantic attractions, confusion, insecurities and humour. But the gem of this book is the fantastic way that Heap has brought to life how difficult it would be adjusting to sight after never having it before. The discourse and description of this is shall we say eye opening and indelible.
Nova had managed to travel with her stick independently to work as a translator for the police. She has to ask for a little bit of help now and again, which people are willing to do, but it was her way of life. She is persuaded by her brother to undergo this revolutionary operation and could never have been prepared for the impact. It is essentially a battle of managing sensory overload and it is exhausting. Now she has to interpret objects that she hasn’t had to recognise before, there are colours to learn about, depth perceptions and coordination to master, essentially a perpetual bombardment of visual information, for which at times she just needs to close her eyes and block it out. She has to learn about eye contact, a social skill she had no means of being prepared for and it affects, such as her interaction with the suspects/criminals she interviews. She hasn’t had to look at them before, to judge them, to be intimidated by them – but now she is.
The book is peppered with Nova’s own rules to seeing. How confusing these rules need to be and how as she goes along she needs to contradict her own rules is a witty journey in itself. I have talked a lot with people about what I have learnt and reflected upon since being immersed in book, which is an accolade in itself. Some of the relationship development between Kate and Nova whilst meant to be awkward, struggles a bit and I am not sure there was enough of a convincing attraction, and as such some parts of the relationship depicted in the story weakened the power of the book. But given it is a debut it is forgivable given the enjoyment I got from the rest of the book.
Sara Garland 4/5
The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap
HarperCollins 9780008293154 hbk Aug 2018