Some might say pregnancy—that miraculous and tedious experience—dulls the brain. But not Jessie Greengrass, a British writer whose debut novel is a highly unusual contribution to the recent flurry of books about motherhood. Sight’s meditative narrator, an unnamed “I” who is expecting her second child, ponders big themes: the body’s mysteries, maternal responsibility, life’s unpredictability, her still-precarious sense of identity—“the underlying, animating shape of things, the way my own cogs bit and turned.”
She yearns for clarity and certainty. Or does she? Deep ambivalence is the spirit Greengrass conveys in a hybrid of introspective prose and historical research. Her narrator probes personal confusions, parsing painful transitions in her past—her mother’s death, visits with her grandmother, debates with her partner about having a child. But she also seeks relief in the library. She delves into the lives of scientists dedicated to the pursuit of transparency (Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered X-rays; Freud; an 18th-century anatomist named John Hunter).
Existential mulling interwoven with biographical digging: The blend may sound a little heavy. It is. Yet Sight—with its cascading sentences and startling insights—is hard to put down. For a novel that evokes a consciousness immured in a pregnant body, what more apt goal than to exert a weighty pull?
This article appears in the September 2018 print edition with the headline “Sight.”