Literary Post-mortem: The Art of Seeing

I’ve decided to do this review a little differently than the others. At the end of this book I found a reading group guide with a number of questions for discussion. Instead of telling you all what the book was about, how it affected me etc – I’ll simply answer some of the questions.

(Note: Most of the questions are very lengthy so in some places I have only concerned myself with parts of the question)


Q: Why does art play such an important role in the novel? In what way does art define life for Jemma and Rozzie?
A: As a photographer, Jemma uses her way of seeing the world to inform the direction of her art. Her art is one of the most important things in her life and pushes and pulls her in various directions throughout the novel. As an actress, Rozzie was propelled into an artistic industry at a very early age. Her acting ability is her art and it too has a lasting and often overwhelming effect in her life.

Q: Jemma says: “Anecdotes about the rich and famous make people cough into their fist or refold a napkin, staring into their lap…” What is it that makes people uncomfortable? How does society respond to fame in the novel?
A: I think people feel uneasy because of the excessive lifestyles, of the narcissism anf just of the impossible and unimaginable lifestyles the rich and famous lead. In the novel people close to it are mostly uneasy about it and try to keep their distance where possible. Those who don’t have personal proximity with fame are enamoured by it because it doesn’t affect their lives in a real way.

Q: How does Rozzie’s fame affect the way Jemma sees herself and others? How does fame diminish those who are famous and the people around them? How does it build them up?
A: Jemma lives in her sister’s shadow, at some point she stops actively being her sister and becomes one of the many people watching her in awe. She has an inability to connect with other people because of it – she doesn’t seem to think much of herself, she shrinks behind her sister’s brilliance. Rozzie pushed her family away in pursuit of fame, she allowed herself to be influenced by people who didn’t even care about her. I think that’s how it diminished them both. It built Rozzie up in that she was widely adored and admired. For Jemma her sister’s fame helped to build up het career.

Q: Discuss the different paossible meanings of the novel’s title. What is the relationship between art and seeing?
A: It’s a play on Jemma’s photography and Rozzie’s blindness. Both have adapted to alternative ways of seeing the world they live in. I think the relationship between art and seeing is that the way we see is in itself an art. Along with this that art extends beyond physically being able to see, that it’s about making people feel something as much as it is about making them feel something.

Q: Why is Jemma’s story told in first person and Rozzie’s in third person? How does this narrative structure shape our ability to understand each character?
A: I don’t know why but I imagined that it might have to do with the author identifying more with Jemma. The narrative structure made me immediately take Jemma’s side, feel her pain and loneliness more than her sister’s. I felt like the entire story was more about her because of it.

Q: Why does putting on Rozzie’s clothes give Jemma a feeling of protection when she removes her pictures from the gallery? Who is Jemma trying to be?
A: Jemma is a very insecure, meek character who rarely does what she really wants to. By putting on her sister’s clothes she takes on her brave and daring persona. She used the clothes as a mask to allow herself the freedom to do as she wished. She ultimately tried to be het fearless sister for a while.

Q: Why does Rozzie’s relationship with Daniel remain so important to her over the years? What does he give her that no one else can?
A: He was a first – her first lover, first mentor and the first person to truly believe in her and her talents. As this person he provides her with a genuine reassurance in her abilities and when she’s with him she can be her old self. He is her comfort zone.

Q: Jemma says of Rozzie: “My whole life has been shaped by the stretch of her light”, and that, “in my head, she’s always been a celebrity.” How do these statements reflect all sibling relationships?
A: I suppose there’s always one sibling who is the leader and one who follows. In this case Jemma’s whole life was shaped by the way Rozzie’s unfolded.

Q: At the end of the book, Jemma says, “Maybe [Rozzie is] an actress because I made her be one.” What does Jemma mean? How might she be correct?
A: Linked to the previous answer, she always let Rozzie take the lead, forcing her to always be the strong one, the brave one etc. Rozzie had to step up to her baby sister’s expectation, always had to make a show of things.

Q: In what ways does Rozzie’s blindness help both sisters gain more control over their lives? And how does it change their relationship?
A: Rozzie’s blindness forces her to become self dependent and this allows her sister to start building her own life. Even though at first her work is centered around Rozzie, she embarks on a journey of self discovery.  Because they both go their separate ways for a while, they allow themselves to slowly repair their relationship.

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