REVIEW: Now That I See You by Emma Batchelor

In brief: The story of the breakdown of a relationship through the eyes of one partner – the good, bad and ugly.

The good: It’s incredibly emotional.

The not-so-good: Sometimes the emotion is very raw.

Why I chose it: Winner of this year’s The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. Thanks to Allen & Unwin for the copy.

Year: 2021

Pages: 206

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Setting: Australia

Rating: 8 out of 10

Now That I See You is raw, blunt and emotional. At times I felt that I was invading on something incredibly personal but yet I couldn’t stop reading. This year’s winner of The Australian/Vogel’s award is a no holds barred story of auto-fiction from the perspective of one partner after her partner Jess decides to transition to a female.

The story is told by Emma through a series of diary entries and emails to her partner Jess (to explain what she couldn’t say out aloud). Emma thought that she and Jess were a happy couple, but when Jess announces that they want to transition from male to female, her world is destroyed. She goes through multiple emotions, from anger to grief to pushing Jess away and then wanting Jess close again. The story is told from Emma’s eyes alone, which of course makes it one-sided and doesn’t give Jess a right of reply. Perhaps that is what makes the story so powerful is that the reader has to imagine themselves in Emma’s place and decide who (if anyone) is being unreasonable. It also asks the question to the reader as to what they would do if they were in Emma or Jess’ place. Would their reactions be the same? Could they move on? Could they support their partner? Both Emma and Jess (through Emma’s viewpoint) expose their vulnerabilities when trying to cope with a life changing event. I can’t say that I always agreed with Emma’s feelings, but a diary is the one place where someone can present their naked thoughts without a filter. Jess and Emma has very different ideas of what constituted support (again, through Emma’s eyes) that caused conflict.

The writing in this novel conveys the emotions so well that they jump off the page into the heart of the reader. It’s not an easy story to tell, especially in terms of auto-fiction. The language is simple and captures the essence of those emotions, uncomfortable as they may be. It’s a short read, but a memorable one.

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