We lived between nappies and traffic jams, mobile phones, and a small stretch of green we called our own, which we rarely saw in the daylight. We reminded each other of garbage collection schedules, the child carers’ names, and which jabs Mia had had. We attended dinner parties, pulling threads from our clothing, pushing our hair into place, smelling of the contents of bottles that still line our bathroom cabinet, and wondering if this was really how we wanted to spend our free time.
And we were still, there was no doubting it, the privileged.
Christy Collins‘ Viva La Novella winner The End of Seeing is just 190 pages long but it took me an eternity to read. It is so beautiful and so, so painful that I had to take it in small doses. Read a few short passages, put it down, shake my head to clear the lump in my throat, and return to the sunlight for a moment.
The protagonist, Ana, is grieving. She is grieving the loss of her daughter Mia and on its heels the disappearance of her partner Nick. Her family and friends tell her to give up waiting. They bury an empty coffin. And she goes home to the empty house in the suburbs they moved to to give Mia some space, desperate for a life that had room for them, though it was never the life they planned.
Nick was drowned, it is assumed, when a leaky boat full of asylum seekers went down in the Mediterranean. Ana cannot let go of this end, she cannot believe he was on that boat. She goes to Europe to follow him, she has print outs of his black and white images, and traces the trail of his last photojournalism assignment. The big one. The one that meant something. And the one that eventually got Nick disappeared.
From the shores of the Mediterranean to the hotel laundries, brothels and cramped apartments, this is a story of a flood of people with nowhere to go, with no hope, with nothing but a series of bad options. And it’s about the forces that would rather their stories weren’t told. Ana’s grief is tangible, it leaps off the page and threatens to crush you, it grows from the singular grief for two lost loved ones, to a wide ranging grief for the world, for the life she leads, for the lives of others who are lost, lost, lost. I wanted to write to Collins after I finished this book, which took me nearly a month to read, rather than the half hour its length suggests. I wanted to say “Christy, you hurt me. And it was just what I needed. It was perfect.”
It’s not just an emotional punch lurking within these pages. This is a novella that seems important in a global, the time is now, kind of way. But it’s a painting, a sonnet, not a protest march. Or perhaps it’s both. Please read this.
The End of Seeing, Christy Collins: five stars.
Read it because: it might change you forever.