Book Review: "Peripheral Vision" by Patricia Ferguson

December 19, 2008

Peripheral Vision by Patricia FergusonThe second of two LibraryThing Early Reviewer books I’m reading and reviewing this month. Peripheral Vision will be UK author Patricia Ferguson’s first novel published in the U.S. Two of her previous novels were long-listed for the Orange Prize. The book will be available within the next few weeks from Other Press, distributed by Random House. As always, my appreciation to LibraryThing and the participating publishers.

As a memory this book exists in snatches: the protagonist’s mother’s bucolic dog kennels, cancer, explicit and unforgiving medical procedures, stiff wool post-war suits and the void where love should be. Brazenly British and medically intricate (one might say too intricate, especially if squeamish), Patricia Ferguson’s first US-published novel tracks the subtly-intertwining lives of three 20th-century women across time. In doing so it breaks no real new ground, but it provides a comfortable and undemanding casual read.

Ferguson shines most when she is writing about her mid-century characters. Her post-war British landscape feels surreal, harsh and at times fantastical. It is a time of dying aristocracy, snobbery and early household appliances. Stiff upper lip. Iris, the heavy-handedly named working-class nurse, is intriguing enough to keep one reading.

Her modern characters–our protagonist, Sylvia, is a rigid and competent eye surgeon–feel flatter, going about their daily urban lives and having their Oprah moments. What makes them compelling? Aside from Sylvia’s inability to love her infant daughter (well executed), it’s hard to say.

A couple of times in the book Ferguson seems close to capturing an emotion in essence, as when Rob (one of our post-war characters) muses about being in love:

“A great many things had stopped worrying Rob. Sometimes, hurrying down a corridor or along a pavement, happiness required him to leap up, arm outstretched, to touch the light-fitting or branch high overhead. He was always hungry. When alone he slept deeply, dreamlessly. He grew an inch.”

Overall, though, the writing is efficient, not profound enough to flash your heart alight. There is the expected tragic love and redemption, but the true nature of the characters’ entanglement is an odd reveal near the end of the book: a spray of confusing details that feels too specific to be interesting.


LibraryThing Tags:

arc, fiction, novel, advanced reader copy, early reviewer, medical, surgeon, english, british, 21st century, read, readin2008

As always, see all of my reviews on LibraryThing.

Library Thing Early Reviewers

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