Published 9th August 2018 by HarperCollins / 416 pages
Opening sentence: “Kate is holding a white square with both hands.’
The Rules of Seeing got my brain whirring and made me think about things from a new perspective – for that reason it is a truly exciting and unique debut from Joe Heap. He says he drew inspiration from watching his newborn son develop his sight, as learning to see, ‘is a stage we all go through, at least once. It’s just that very few of us remember what it was like.’
If you have never had issues with your vision, then sight is something you most likely take for granted. Reading this book made me realise that I definitely do. For example: depth perception, transparency and how objects are linked are all things I take in my stride, but to someone who is learning to see, the world around them can be a bloody minefield. I had just never considered how learning to see is essentially learning another language. This is what Joe explores with one of his two lead characters, Nova. Blind from birth, she is 32 years old when she is offered a revolutionary operation that will give her sight. You would assume anyone given sight after not having it would be ecstatic, but not necessarily, as this book wonderfully describes. Nova is clever and good at languages, but sight is a baffling beast that she needs time to get to grips with, for example: ‘People holding coffee mugs look as though they have a strange, extra appendage’
Our other lead character is architect Kate. She is not literally blind, but blind to the type of man she is really married to, until she discovers Tony’s secret and things get rapidly out of hand. Kate and Nova’s paths cross when they are both at pivotal moments in their lives and and there is a spark that confuses and delights them both. As the story progresses, the focus shifts from Nova’s new ability to see and moves onto the relationship between Nova and Kate. It all builds up to a deliciously dramatic ending that I wasn’t expecting, but definitely kept those pages turning!
Scattered throughout the book are Nova’s ‘Rules of Seeing’ (‘I’m coming up with these rules in my head, to help me remember it all.’) They really put into perspective how much our brain processes when all we do is open our eyes (‘When you go walking, remember that your vision will bob up and down like a boat on the ocean. This is normal.’) The Rules also work to convey more of Nova’s wonderfully dry sense of humour, ‘Sighted people are so good at seeing that they get bored of it, and make things called optical illusions.’
For me, strong, relatable characters are key to making the read engaging and enjoyable. Nova and Kate are both wonderfully crafted, complex characters that you care about. They make mistakes and bad decisions, but ultimately are just trying to be happy and achieve clarity – both literal and metaphorical – in their lives. Also, I loved how the story finished up with a nice touch of poetic justice. This is one of the most unique novels I’ve read this year that will be buzzing around my brain for a while.
I was kindly sent this book in exchange for an honest review.