I read "Emotional Geology" by Linda Gillard some time ago and really enjoyed it so was keen to read her other books. However my "must read" list is so ridiculously long that I only recently got round to reading "Star Gazing", which is her third novel. And I'm pleased to say that it was well worth the wait.
This book is an unconventional love story about feisty Marianne, who has been blind since birth. She lives a quiet and routine life in Edinburgh with her older sister Louisa, an author who writes vampire books. Marianne, as well as being disabled, has not been averse to tragedy in her life and as a result has become very self contained yet with a simmering angry streak, and lonely although she would never admit it. However a chance encounter with a man on her doorstep leads to an unexpected friendship. He wants to take her to his home on Skye to "show" her the stars. Can she trust her feelings for this man, or is she going to find herself hurt? And how will she cope when history repeats itself and disaster strikes again?
"Star Gazing" is unusual in that the main character, Marianne, has been blind since birth, so the author has immediately set herself a huge challenge. How on earth do you write from the point of view of someone who can't - and has never been able to - see? I love Linda Gillard's style of writing, I find it very poetic and descriptive, so was immediately intrigued as to how she tackled this. I thought I might find it hard to relate to Marianne and her world, but the author has crafted it so wonderfully and used Marianne's remaining senses to such full advantage that it was fascinating to read how she interprets everyday things that we take for granted. Simple things such as colours mean nothing to Marianne so she uses music and sound as a means of "seeing" things. I found that I could "see" the settings in the book through Marianne's descriptions just as well as if a character with sight had been describing them. I could also sense her fear at when she became lost in the snow, despite not knowing what its like to be lost and unable to see where I'm going.
It was easy to become emotionally involved with all of the characters in this story. Marianne is frustrating at times in her refusal to accept what she views as pity, and her way of dealing with some of the events in the book. There were times I wanted to give her a good slap and I suspected that her sister Louisa felt the same, but at the same time it was impossible not to love her determination, fighting spirit and humour. Keir, the Skye man she meets on her door step is an unconventional hero. Brooding, quiet and something of a loner, his patience and tolerance of Marinanne is almost overwhelming. He has a wonderful ability to describe the world to her in terms of sound - classical music in particular, which is a passion of both of them - yet at the same time overlooks her blindness and views her simply as a person. Marianne, having spent a lot of her life being defined by her disability, seems to struggle to accept this initially and questions Keir's motives. Louisa and her assistant/toy boy Garth the Goth are both loveable and provide some lighter moments in a book which covers a lot of heavy topics. Disability, death, pregnancy, love and the Piper Alpha disaster are all covered in here, and all researched wonderfully.
The book is written from various points of view - sometimes first person from the POV of Marianne or Louisa, and at other times third person from everyone's POV. I didn't find this style confusing in the slightest, and indeed found that it gave the story a nice rounded feel and it meant that I got to know each character that little bit better.
I'm not a fan of romances and love stories, yet enjoyed this book because it is so much more than that. Although the developing relationship between Marianne and Kier is important, at times it felt secondary to the wonderful descriptions and the developments in Marianne's character as she comes to terms with the disruption of her set daily routine. This is a beautifully written, well researched book that will open your mind and show you a different way of "seeing" the word. I for one would never have thought of describing things by using a sound but it's something I will now give thought to. There is so much more to the world than we can see with our eyes. A highly recommended book from a great author.