“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille… I didn’t know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.” (89).
At this point in the novel, I believe this section represents the narrator’s loss of self. The usage of literary themed words (write, reading, braille, palimpsest, letters, book, translate, etc.) combined with bodily terms (body, hands, etc.) suggest that words and identity are intertwined. They compare the multiple experiences and relationships they have encountered to a palimpsest, illustrating the frustration and confusion they have endured. A commonality seen within each of the narrator’s previous relationships was the brief period in which they lasted. The narrator’s dissatisfaction with their lovers only contributed to their inner turmoil regarding what they truly were searching for in their concept of love.
Louise’s ability to connect with the narrator was the blossoming of an epiphany. They felt as if they were being accepted for who they are as an individual, rather than a short-lived phase. Louise did not have any intention of hiding the narrator from her husband, nor did she want to change the narrator in any way. She was adamant about wanting to leave Elgin to pursue her relationship with the narrator simply because she loved them. Additionally, in the narrator’s past relationships, they chose to compromise with their lovers to salvage their bond. These compromises consisted of communication by pigeon, shaving their entire body, lying about their relationship status, living an uneventful life, and countless other situations that they did not feel comfortable with. For the first time, Louise was not asking for anything from the narrator. She simply wanted to be with them.
However, this epiphany ironically led to the narrator’s misunderstanding of a healthy relationship. Having been changing themselves for their partner over and over, repeatedly erasing and creating new identities on themselves, they ran into a sense of confusion about who they are as an individual when their lover did not wish for them to change. Louise was not attempting to write anything on the narrator’s body; she only wished to read their identity. However, due to their inexperience in self-discovery, the narrator felt as if it was almost mandatory that they must be rewritten. With the lack of any attempt to modify the narrator, the narrator does not know how to act within a relationship. They are not told who to be; therefore, they misunderstand Louise’s sincerity, and mistake it as a “translation.” By this, they believe that they must become one with Louise. Love is not only about the other person, wishing to physically exude a perfect replication of the partner. A relationship consists of two individuals, not one. An absence of identity weakens companionship, disrupting equality and erasing any sense of a secure attachment. Instead, selfishness and inferiority emerges.