Seeing Other People by Diana Reid

January 06, 20245 min read

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In October, I had recently gone through the end of my first and only relationship, and it was one where I felt regret, disappointment in myself, and an unfaltering desire to be a better person. That’s when I came across this novel, and I picked it up and read it from start to finish on a flight - embarking my first long solo trip abroad, and it was an experience that left me in tears.

Diana Reid’s Seeing Other People was a book I needed to read at that exact moment. It was a novel that explored the boundaries of love, and pain caused by love. Reid forces us to question morality, with what’s right and wrong when balanced between how you should act, and how you want to act. It explores how people can hurt those they love, and the consequences of those actions and the raw humanity that exists when dealing with that.

We follow the story of two sisters embroiled in a difficult love square, with two other characters all in their 20s in Sydney. All of the locations felt so familiar, growing up in Sydney myself. What happens in the novel is for you to find out, but the most beautiful thing is the growth each of the characters experience.

I found it inspiring to know how life goes on, when I was not in the best of places myself.

She could cope with the idea that their relationship was over. What humiliated her was that she hadn’t been the one to end it. She hated that he had the power to hurt her: that she could behave perfectly, and treat him with respect, and still emerge undignified and small. No choice in how it ended, or how to feel about it. Just tears, hot and mocking, betraying her further still.

It’s just, when I hear about people doing mad things in love, I hear it in my stomach.’ She motioned to it. ‘I sort of think, we’ve all got that in us. I can imagine myself unhinging like that.’

Instead, her father broke the silence first. ‘People talk about forgiveness, Eleanor,’ he said, ‘like it’s letting someone off the hook. But forgiving yourself is hard. It’s a kind of torture, to give up on this idea of yourself …’ ‘What idea?’ Eleanor leaned forward. His voice, no longer that professional whisper, was now oddly quiet. She strained for each word. ‘To admit that you’re flawed. It’s very humbling. Forgiving other people is easy. It’s playing God. It’s very, very hard to forgive yourself. You have to put your hand up and say: I’m just human. The same as everybody else. That’s very difficult.’

A prohibition would be ideal. Don’t see that woman. Then doing the right thing would be as simple as doing what she was told.

Afterwards, Eleanor told Helen that she loved her, and Helen said she loved her too. Then, in a voice Eleanor hadn’t heard before, Helen said: ‘Come here, beautiful girl.’ Her voice was high-pitched and cooing, but it brought Eleanor no shame to hear it. She lay her head on Helen’s chest. Something in them—between them—had changed. It was as if, having exposed themselves this way—talking to each other like dogs or children—they could never again be real, proper people. They could only pretend: to be adults; to be two people who conducted sovereign lives, and needed each other a normal amount.

What it showed, Eleanor thought, was how much suffering you might be prepared to cause, if you wanted something enough.

For all these attempts to really see other people, on that bench with Charlie, Helen had decided that love—a devoted, committed love—could also mean closing her eyes. She saw Eleanor’s faults, and she chose to look away.

It seemed the saddest most obvious thing in the world—that people changed, and also didn’t.

We’ve all been there

Diving in would be attention-seeking and indulgent, because she had responsibilities to other people, chief of which was to stay alive and not cause any more grief

Under that loving, critical gaze, Eleanor said, very quietly: ‘Do you think I’m a terrible person?’ ‘Oh, Eleanor, no.’ Mary reached across the table and touched Eleanor’s wrist. Her hand was clammy from the tea. ‘From what you’ve said, though, it sounds like you might have behaved a bit terribly.’

‘Hey.’ Charlie put a hand on Eleanor’s knee. ‘Everyone’s a mess from time to time.’

she didn’t need to understand people—like Charlie, like her parents, like Helen—to love them wholeheartedly.

It was—while it lasted—the most captivating thing: a world that Eleanor wasn’t in; real outside of her, where people suffered and struggled, and loved one another. Where everyone was connected, and each affected the other.

Read on 15th October 2023

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