Rendering the invisible visible
Marie Kessels writes novels set inside the often fickle minds of her protagonists who are willing to go to any length to defend their autonomy. The subject of this new novel is blindness. Gemma, the protagonist, is injured in a traffic accident which leaves her sight permanently damaged. ‘It happened so fast that I can hardly remember it. A terrible moment before the blow, then the ear-splitting sound as of an explosion, a noise in which my pain (which must have been there) was lost.’
The novel’s short, poignant chapters describe how Gemma tries to rebuild her life. Now excluded from the world in which she is visible to others, she sets out to map it on nocturnal walks through the neighbourhood during which she registers every tile and drainpipe she passes. She thus discovers a new city, a ‘new nocturnal universe’. But she doesn’t only use her sense of touch, she also asks others to read to her and she learns Braille, using her new skills to read Blindness by Jose Saramago, The Light that Failed by Rudyard Kipling and Touching the Rock by John Hull. The old blues singer, Blind Willie McTell, also fascinates her.
Kessels has always been a sensitive and sensual author and, in this novel, she immerses the reader in the effect of invisibility - the smell of rain in the air, or how the sounds of a busy city can evoke a panorama. The tone of the novel is, however, never melancholy or plaintive, rather it is lighthearted with determination fairly jumping off its pages. As always with Kessels, the story is not in the plot but in the imaginative details and original ideas - now formulated by Gemma. Ruw (‘Rough’) does what literature should: render the invisible visible.