Through Other Eyes
A review of Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister (HarperCollins Publishers, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister explores ideas of normative minds and constructions of normative psychology. Fiona has gradually been experiencing progressive dementia, experiencing changes in her memory and perception of the world around her. Her daughter, Rose, begins to experience what she calls “episodes” during every storm. She begins to have breaks in consciousness where she seems to be seeing the world through the eyes of another woman, Harriet. She is uncertain if she is having delusions, hallucinations, migraines, or whether she is actually experiencing the life of another woman and seeing the world through her eyes.
Gowdy examines the plasticity of the mind and questions ideas of the “normal” functioning of the mind by illustrating that the mind is changeable and always shifting. Rose had buried the memory of her sister who died when she was young, trying not to think about her, but her mother’s dementia and her discovery that Harriet’s eyes are similar to those of her sister have brought up memories of the past, causing her to examine her own feelings of guilt and her memories of the past. Gowdy examines ideas of memory through the lens of dementia (which is socially constructed as a return to an earlier period in one’s memory), and through the notion of out of body experiences.
Gowdy’s notion of seeing out of the eyes of others is reinforced by the fact that Rose and Fiona own a theatre, which reinforces the idea of other visions and perspectives. Gowdy invites the question of voyeurism and whether seeing through another person’s eyes is an invasion of her privacy, particularly since Rose begins to look into Harriet’s life, trying to discover more about this other woman whose eyes she is seeing through during any thunder storm.
Rose’s obsession invites the question of identity, allowing her to know herself by knowing who she is not. Gowdy invites the reader on a quest of self discovery alongside Rose and Fiona, exploring how we define ourselves in relation to other people and in relation to our perception of memory.
To discover more about Barbara Gowdy, visit http://www.barbaragowdy.com
To find out more about Little Sister, visit http://www.harpercollins.ca/9781554688609/little-sister