Book Review – ‘Touching the Rock’ by John Hull

‘Touching the Rock’ by John Hull

John Hull was born in 1935 in Victoria, Australia, with full vision. In 1980, after many years of experiencing issues with his sight, he became legally blind (Hull). John wrote a book about his experiences with coping from being a sighted individual to learning how to deal with the blankness. This book is ‘Touching the Rock’, an experience of blindness.

I will review three extracts taken from the book – ‘Faces’, ‘Rain’ and ‘Between you and me, a smile’.

 FACES – “There are those with faces, and those without faces . Hull describes how he can still picture people he knew before he lost his sight, however the people he has met since, are without a face. He compares his lack of vision to an art gallery. There are canvasses on the wall, some of which are familiar to him, some which are blank. The blank canvasses are new faces, ones he has never seen and struggles to visualise. The contrast between a gallery and his sight is beautifully written and effective.

As I study this section, I close my eyes, becoming part of his darkness, to form a connection with the gallery. Some canvasses on the wall have a clear image with intricate details forcefully pushing through the darkness. Then I come across a blank canvass, nothing catching my attention. The harder I try to form a picture, anything at all, the further the canvass falls into nothingness. But I can open my eyes and pursue the image, Hull cannot.

Hull describes the images he has of his three children, three years after becoming blind. His eldest child is now ten years old but his memory is of photo’s taken of her up until she was seven. His youngest child he has never actually seen, so she is a blank portrait, like many others in his life.

The sadness of ‘Faces’ flows through out, making me feel sympathetic for his major loss. He almost appears to be bitter, angry at his loss, which is understandable. He is expressing his mourning for his sight through the loss of never being able to see his children grow up, a realisation he may not have fully understood until now.

 RAIN – “…it has granted a gift to me, the gift of the world”. Hull describes a simple experience of opening his front door and it is raining. This was written only a few months after ‘Faces’ but the difference in the emotion of the two is extreme.

He has been able to capture every intricate detail of what rain feels like, smells like, sounds like and even looks like through the eyes of the eyeless. He is joyous in his words and believes he is at one with the world when it is raining. An amazingly uplifting section, I smiled through out, wishing as I read that the rain would fall outside.

I have never looked at rain in the way Hull does. Yes I have vision but it made me realise just how beautiful the world is with simple, common experiences. Hull was able to see the world as a sighted person sees the world when it rains, as every sense in his body became sensitised to his surroundings.

There was no loss in this section, no deep sadness, only recognition of his reality. It was as though this part of his life, which he had taken for granted, now was the part that made him happy with losing his vision. ‘Rain’ is the journal log that is most commonly used for promotion of his book; (Hull, RAIN 9th September 1983), maybe it is when the light finally began to shine through.

BETWEEN YOU AND ME, A SMILE – “…the breakdown which blindness causes in the language of smiles . This is written six years after losing his vision and he is with his youngest child helping her get dressed. They exchange smiles but his daughter is confused how he knows that she is smiling.

Such a touching moment that I shed a little tear. A tear for his loss of never seeing his child smile. A tear for his joy at knowing his child was smiling with him. A tear for his knowledge that he had accepted his lot in life and his children were flourishing.

I knew when I read this that I needed to read the complete book. He is not trying to hide what it is like to be blind. He is not focusing on all the negatives about being blind. His words gave me the opportunity to see how he sees life and it is not as dark as I originally believed.

In an interview with Hull by Mary D’Apice from VisionAware, Hull talks about the first few years he did not register that he was actually blind. He talks about his acceptance of blindness, understanding fully in order for it to not destroy his life.

It was through his many vivid dreams that he learnt how to begin to deal with his loss and move on with life. Hull also points out what many people think maybe helpful for those who are blind or assumed about those with no sight, something I must admit I thought too. Not judging a book by its cover (sorry about the pun) is a lesson I learnt from reading his private journal.

Reading his book, I felt like I went through the journey with him. He went through the acceptance and then the understanding and now leads a full and active life. A beautifully written journal, something to read when you need time to slow down and gain a deeper appreciation of life. Highly recommended to all age groups.


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