All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Now That I See You by Emma Batchelor

on July 30, 2021

Now That I See You
Emma Batchelor
Allen & Unwin
2021, 216p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}: In those first moments, that admission felt precious to me: it was something that I alone had been deemed worthy enough to carry and I was grateful. I was grateful to finally know, but I still couldn’t speak.

Something was wrong, she knew it, but she was entirely unprepared for what he would tell her.

Viewed through the lens of a relationship breakdown after one partner discloses to the other that they are transgender, this autofiction spans eighteen months: from the moments of first discovery, through the eventual disintegration of their partnership, to the new beginnings of independence.

In diaries and letters, Now That I See You unfolds a love story that, while often messy and uncomfortable, is a poignant and personal exploration of identity, gender, love and grief.

This was….interesting.

I have to admit, I’d never heard of “auto fiction” before reading this book and I’m still not really 100% clear on it. It’s sort of fictionalised non-fiction although it’s hard to know what is real and what isn’t. In some ways, I’d rather just read either a fiction book, or a memoir without wondering to myself which bit might’ve actually happened quite as described and which is added in.

This won the Vogel, Allen & Unwin’s award for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under 35 and deals with the feelings of Emma after her partner of six years Jess, comes to her and at first, admits to feeling more comfortable presenting as feminine – dressing in women’s clothes, etc. Then Jess begins to use they/them pronouns before admitting that they are a trans woman and would be beginning to transition.

Emma has…a lot of feelings. Like a lot, and I get that. I think it’d be a very difficult thing for a cisgender heterosexual woman to have their partner, the person they thought they’d be with forever, turn things upside down by saying the person Emma was with was not really them and that they were now going to embrace their true selves.

Emma is very supportive however and does make it clear she wants to remain in the relationship. It’s Jess that has a lot of misgivings and pulls away from Emma, both physically and emotionally. This causes a lot of strain and Jess eventually leaves their relationship and home and it starts quite a downward spiral for Emma.

There were times when Emma’s love for Jess honestly felt more toxic than anything else – for both of them. Emma has trouble functioning over the breakdown of the relationship and Jess’ leaving, she becomes depressed, has suicidal ideation, seems to obsess over her and Jess’ every interaction. Emma doesn’t want a clean break, she wants to see Jess regularly, have Jess stay over and her mental breakdowns are often in response to Jess attempting some distance, or saying something cold, upsetting or rejecting Emma in some way.

This is purely Emma’s experience – we are never treated to Jess’ side of the story, it’s told through diary entries by Emma and emails she writes to Jess to express her feelings when their spoken conversations don’t go as to plan and often result in arguments, tears and heartache. So she writes her feelings down and so it’s only Emma’s perspective which is, as I’ve mentioned, feels somewhat obsessive at times.

Jess is going through something really huge obviously and what they’re dealing with revolves around more than just a relationship. Emma probably should’ve given them the space they required in order to do this, but instead there’s a lot of how much Emma loves Jess, no matter how they present themselves, and how much she wants to stay in the relationship and how devastated she is every time Jess pulls away in some way, shape or form. It got a bit repetitive (and this isn’t a long novel either) and although I admired Emma for wanting to support her partner and stay with them even as their relationship would evolve in a very unexpected way there were times when I just wanted to say get a grip girl, let them be! It’s not just about you.

I read this article which is about Emma and her relationship with the real Jess which helps clarify what is mostly based in reality and what the author might’ve played with for the sake of the ‘fiction’ tag. It did make me think about a lot of things – Emma’s reaction to Jess transitioning is a contradiction at times. In some ways she’s supportive and makes an effort to help Jess with their feminine presentation, such as assisting with nails, dresses, make up. She’s still attracted to Jess no matter their outward presentation as well, which leads to a lot of thoughts about her sexuality and she seems to compliment Jess and do her best to make Jess feel good and attractive – which Jess doesn’t seem to ever return and Jess’ lack of interest in Emma leads her to some dark and depressive places, crushing her self esteem and body positivity. Those scenes were difficult to read, because it was another layer of toxicity in this and I couldn’t decide if Emma should walk away from someone who made her feel terrible about herself or if Jess just needed the time away from Emma’s crushing love, to embrace their new selves and decide what they wanted romantically.

I feel like this would be a great choice for a bookclub book because it has endless capacity for discussion. I had a lot of thoughts reading it, and not all of them were good. This is not the trans experience as Jess’ story isn’t on these pages and as I’ve mentioned, a lot of what I read here, felt toxic. It felt honest, I have to say. Emma seems to write down almost every feeling that falls into her head and it’s kind of bare – the negative feelings and thoughts she has as well. But it’s very clearly her experience with the ripping away of a relationship and all that came with that. I felt like Emma’s primary concern was Jess potentially leaving and then leaving, not particularly Jess as a person.


Book #129 of 2021

Note: (As per the linked article, the real Jess seems to now uses she pronouns but during the book a lot of her pronouns were they and them and that’s how I’ve written them here).

One response to “Review: Now That I See You by Emma Batchelor

  1. A thoughtful review! This one is still on my tbr.

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