As a child, the flamboyant, brooding, and beautiful Rozzie was always the star of her family -- especially in her younger sister Jemma's eyes. So when Rozzie takes up acting and, as a teenager, wins a part in a major motion picture, life changes irrevocably for both sisters. Rozzie is catapulted into the chaotic adult world of celebrity while Jemma travels to movie sets and relishes her sister's fame -- never seeing the strain that the spotlight puts on Rozzie. Soon Jemma develops her own artistic ambitions as a photographer, and Rozzie is forced to reveal the secret she has kept from her family for years -- a rare eye condition that threatens her vision. Only then does Jemma begin to see the truth about her sister and herself -- a reality that threatens the delicate balance of their relationship.
A moving and profound story about family, celebrity, envy, and ultimately love, The Art of Seeing is a brilliant exploration of the powerful and enduring connection between sisters.
This first novel, by the sister of movie actress Elizabeth McGovern, may be narrated by the sister of a movie actress, but it doesn't read like a roman clef; the scenes around the movie sets on which Rozzie has become a star as a teenager are oddly muted and unrevealing, while the inner life of narrator Jemma carries the book. Jemma is alternately envious and anxious about Rozzie's celebrity, and when she begins to nourish ambitions of her own as a photographer she is tempted to use that celebrity to further her own career. The situation becomes even more emotionally complicated as Rozzie begins to go blind and her movie-star existence starts to crumble. McGovern has an effectively deadpan, rather oblique style and offers some trenchant psychological insights into sibling relationships, but the book's ever-shifting time frame makes it difficult to follow the progress of Rozzie's decline, and it seems preposterous that her growing blindness is for much of the time a well-kept secret. Jemma's photography, too, becomes enmeshed in improbable psychodrama as she replaces some of her pictures in her first-ever show at the last moment, armed with nothing but a screwdriver. The emphasis on visualization throughout the book is sometimes compelling, but the narrative framework on which it is hung is flimsy. 4-city author tour.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely story about the complexities of life amongst siblings and the complicated roles of family. What I like the best is the way Ms. McGovern writes, her fascinating prose that brings every subject to life before the readers' eyes, and, more importantly, in our imaginations. The manner in which she relates past to present and skillfully interweaves them is so delightful.