Magazine article The Spectator

The Dark Is Light Enough

Magazine article The Spectator

The Dark Is Light Enough

Article excerpt

PLANET OF THE BLIND

by Stephen Kuusisto

Faber, L9.99, pp. 194

Stephen Kuusisto, the author of this unusual autobiography, was born three months premature and his eyes failed to develop properly, leaving him with extreme visual impairment. He could have been registered blind and gone to a special school but his mother, a strange woman (whose life was increasingly spent in the company of ghosts), was utterly determined that her son should not be disabled and insisted that he attend an ordinary school. With ridiculously thick, uncomfortably heavy glasses he could, by pressing his nose against the page, just read with extreme difficulty and not for long at a time. Through his years at school, high school, college, as a Fulbright scholar and then as a teacher at university, he lived an exhausting life of deception, denying his blindness to the outside world. His eventual acceptance and declaration of his disability came very slowly and was furiously resisted.

Planet of the Blind gives a rare insight into what it is like to be visually impaired, or rather what it was like for this particular extraordinary man, but I must confess I have difficulties with it. In an interview for the In Touch programme on Radio Four, Kuusisto said that he had set out to use his poetic skills to evoke what it was like to be partially sighted. He writes using poetic imagery very freely and, to my mind, uncritically. When this hits the spot, as it frequently does, it can be very vivid and moving, but when I encountered things like, 'I look serious, as if my corpuscles have turned into hot pearls,' or,

Still, I begin to have some friends, all of them soured because the actual world is covered by an indescribable stain. Each climbs his own lookout tower, quick, dishevelled, obscure. We are all waiting for the silver ship to arrive, a paradise of fruit, the Beloved from the Song of Solomon, merciful nights among the hazel trees,

my wonder turned to irritation. …

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