Acts of looking in Mahy’s The Changeover
While I disagree somewhat with her version of Magical Realism, I like what Lucy Norton had to say about ‘looking’ in Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover:
“Portraying adolescent experience as a threshold where boundaries of “time, space, and identity” change, Mahy examines how the activity of looking informs adolescent perception, a theme that she often explores in this novel through the depiction of art. For Mahy, the act of looking involves fragmentation of the looking self, recognition of “the other” as separate but integral to self, and, finally, integration of “the other” back into the looker.
In discussing The Changeover, critics focus primarily on its liminal nature and on its use of myth and archetype. Nevertheless, in The Changeover, characters of all ages are constantly looking at themselves and others in mirrors, advertisements, and television; in photographs, posters, and paintings; and in their mind’s eye. Sometimes looking is portrayed as an interaction or exchange; sometimes it is depicted as intrusive as characters [-p.30] attempt to look at other people – and sometimes even at themselves – covertly.” (pp.29-30)
Norton discusses several important instances of looking and (I think) highlights an important facet of how this text works. “In The Changeover,” Norton writes, “looking determines the kind of connection that adolescent characters form with “the other”; it also figures prominently in whether or not a character can recognize and successfully integrate disparate and sometimes difficult aspects of “the other” back into the self. Sorensen’s propensity for establishing one-way connections – looking at people (and things) who are unaware of being looked at – not only restricts his interactions with others, but also endows him with a false sense of invulnerability.” (p.31) “By contrast, Laura meets herself face-to-face. She not only recognizes that which is covert, but also realizes that growth entails exchange, a blurring of borders.” (p.32)
She also notes that “Throughout the novel, Mahy also portrays uneasy borders between to public and private realms, a relationship in which looking is again crucial.” (p.31)
Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Lucy Norton (1998) ‘Seeing is believing: Magical Realism and Visual narrative in Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover.’ Bookbird, Summer 36(2), pp29-32