Ana DuChamp’s husband Nick is a photojournalist from Melbourne. He is presumed dead, on a ship that wrecked off the coast of Italy. Ana struggles to come to terms with his death and convinces herself that he is alive somewhere, simply waiting for her to find him. She leaves her home in suburban Melbourne and takes herself to the other side of the world, despite warnings from friends and family. Starting in Milan, Ana tracks Nick’s journey throughout Europe and North Africa, slowly seeing the world her husband witnessed through his camera.
The End of Seeing, a novella from Melbourne based writer Christy Collins won Seizure Online’s Viva La Novella 2015 competition. It’s a poetic story, rich, and layered, and it’s easy to see why it took first prize.
Written in second person as a love letter to a husband now dead, the book unfolds slowly, taking the reader on multiple journeys through domestic flashbacks and present tense. The second person perspective is particularly enjoyable, styled to allow insight into Ana’s head, to feel her grief strongly as though it were a part of me too. The inner monologue is clever and sharp, giving generously but holding back at all the right places. It allows the reader space to process what’s going on without bogging itself down with too much detail. Ana is a reliable and relatable narrator.
At only 193 pages, The End of Seeing is short but well executed and the story keeps a good pace. It’s tender and tense, and whilst peppered with meticulous descriptions that could become tedious, it doesn’t.
“We kissed. The cat stayed; the car took up permanent residence in the garage. You visited your parents by train. We drank more coffee, and you used words like proletariat, and sometimes I allowed myself to laugh at you.”
There isn’t a lot of dialogue used in the book as the perspective remains with Ana. It would have been interesting to see another perspective, even if only done through Ana’s flashbacks. Although Nick’s presence was felt, his character wasn’t as fleshed out as it could have been.
The book deals with an array of themes: belonging, family, guilt, displacement, migration, and asylum on a domestic and global scale. Collins uses juxtaposition well to fold layers into the book, cleverly contrasting Ana’s grief with the grief of others around her. There’s a heart-breaking scene near the end of the story, where Ana poses as a little’s boy’s mother, a move against the police who have come to deport him and his family. It’s an evocative scene that shows us Ana’s own sorrow, her feelings of powerlessness, and her compulsion to help those in distress.
“ ‘Come,’ I say to the boy, and I call him towards me with my hands, trying to keep my voice even. ‘Time to go.’ The boy, confused into obedience, walks towards me, still holding his stick. I stoop low and reach out to take the stick to lay it on the ground beside me. He looks at my face without fear. My heart is beating hard in my chest and my body aches with insistence that I cannot, must not, take this child – a boy I have never met – into my arms. I spread my arms and he comes to me; I scoop him up and stand, feeling the weight of his frame against my torso. He says nothing but stays very still, his face pressed into my neck. I can feel his heart beat fast against my shoulder, as he can surely feel mine.”
As Ana searches for her husband, following his footsteps and hunting tirelessly for clues, a man named Ahmad Barbarka writes to her. He is in a detention centre in Woomera, and needs assistance in order to be granted asylum. He is desperate for a photograph Nick took of him in Tripoli. Whilst an important theme to address, it was difficult to have a true grasp on the severity of Ahmad’s situation.
I don’t feel there was enough time spent with Ahmad. Letters from him scattered throughout the text add context, but they almost felt like an afterthought, and could have been fleshed out in greater detail. Perhaps in order to fully explore this theme, and the greater theme of Australia’s problematic relationship with asylum a longer format would be needed.
Ultimately, Christy Collins writes with skill and clarity. There’s a rhythm to the way she tells this story, it’s emotional and fierce, tackling big ideas and asking significant questions. A stunning book about the human heart, about how we process things, and how we are often blinded by the truth. The End of Seeing is a rich and realistic story. I look forward to future works by this author.
Publisher: Seizure Online
Katelin Farnsworth is a writer from Melbourne. She’s currently working on her first novel ‘All That Blue’ and has been published in various Australian journals. She studies Creative Writing at Deakin University.