Peripheral Vision by Patricia Ferguson
published 2007 Section: After the Lecture 1983
[Medical student Sylvia Henshaw has been offered a lift home by one of her lecturers, Rob Wilding, on a very wet day]
‘May I ask you something?’ he said.
They drew up at a red light.
‘Do you often wear leathers?’
She turned to look at him outright, in surprise. Their eyes met. It was all a bit much for Sylvia. She felt herself hotly blushing.
‘Oh well of course I do realise I look a bit peculiar – ‘
‘Not at all - ' he said.
‘But my bike got stolen. I mean I don’t usually, well, it’s to ride a motorbike in.’
Helplessly she began to giggle. Somehow she had felt so angry at losing the bike… that she had not for a moment considered what she might have looked like standing at the bus stop in tight leather black trousers and matching figure-hugging zip-up jacket. And sleek wet hair, oh, gods of lucky chance, what more could a girl want?
‘I’m sorry to hear that’ said Mr Wilding, deadpan. ‘I thought it might be another side to your character.’
No-one has heard of Patricia Ferguson, although she is long-and short-listed for prizes, and her first book – Family Myths and Legends – won three literary prizes. Her writing could be described as quietly clever. This is how her agent describes this book: "Peripheral Vision is a funny, moving, enthralling story of love, separation, deception and betrayal spanning two generations from the years of post-war austerity to the modern era of consumerism and affluence." The book has many strands and time periods, and a recurring theme of vision, eyes, and eye problems. It is very readable and memorable, though some sections work much better than others. The character of Iris in the book is particularly strong, someone who is shown as deeply problematic but very likeable, and real and believable. Sylvia, above, also just feels like someone you might know. Yes well - proving that it’s difficult to describe what it is about Patricia Ferguson’s writing that is so - winning - and unusual: perhaps that is why no-one has heard of her.
From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales and featured on Flickr.