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BOOK REVIEW: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

| 9 January 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan 

Bloomsbury Circus
January 2016
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Psychological Thriller

5/10

28438893

Sometimes I think I have made it up. Days come where it feels like the whole thing is a story in my head and there was never any swap and any game and it is really me who has been the Ellie all along.
Sometimes it lives in the place in my head where the other stories that don’t fit in the world hide – that day skipping along the pavement clutching the bags from the shop in the precinct containing the things in all different colours, Mother in her dressing gown slumped behind the closed curtains on a sunny afternoon, the day they laid a big doll out in a man-sized box and told us it was Father and that we were being very brave even though all we were doing was just standing there. These things feel like broken-up pieces – bits of a puzzle lost behind the sofa, waiting for the day the Hoover will come and suck them up and they’ll be gone.

When they were six, identical twins Helen and Ellie decided to swap places. They thought it would be a bit of fun, and that it might actually make Mother smile for once, might encourage her to leave her room, where she sometimes locked herself for days, to maybe spend some time with her daughters.

But when they return home, clothes switched and hair done the other way around, Mother is not alone. Horace Greene is with her. He is affectionate with mother, makes her smile, and is going to be moving in with them. Maybe that won’t be so bad, if he keeps Mother’s bad moods at bay.

But Ellie wants to continue being Helen, refuses to swap back, and Helen, the real Helen, is stuck in Ellie’s old, daggy clothes that are all baggy around the neck thanks to Ellie’s habit of tugging on them.

Helen’s sleeping in the other bed now, can’t escape her hair being in bunches instead of her beloved plait, and is relegated to the special education table at the back of the classroom.

No one listens when she tells them she’s actually Helen, and she’s so full of frustration that she’s throwing tantrums and refusing to do her classwork, scribbling angrily over the pages instead.

What else can a six-year-old do when no one will listen?

‘There,’ says Grandma, pleased.
Then she looks at me and the weather changes in her eyes.
‘But what is it? You’ve got…’ and her fingers open and close as they try to scrabble the word from the air ‘…empty, haven’t you?’
It’s not the right word, not in an English-teacher-marking-your-work way, but in another sense it is. Amid all the cracked words that no longer do what they say, it clangs like a deep, resonant bell.

 

Ann Morgan shows a flair for being able to express, in writing, thoughts and feelings we all might have felt from time to time. She taps into frustration, loss, and mental instability and presents a book that is highly quotable, but is somehow light on the actual feeling.

Perhaps that isn’t entirely fair. The first third of this book passed by in a flash, flicking back and forth, chapter by chapter, between first person Helen-turned-Ellie around age six, and third person “Smudge” some fifteen to twenty years after she lost touch with her family. This first third had me thinking I was in for an awesome ride, and that this was a book that would surely end up on the higher end of the ratings spectrum. Immediately interested in Helen-turned-Ellie-turned-Smudge, despite the signs of childhood nastiness that she directed at her own sister as children can be wont to do, the first third was engrossing and engaging.

It all started to fall apart when the first person chapters switched to second person chapters. This happened after a traumatic event, when teenage Smudge decided that she no longer needed to be anyone in particular, and for the rest of the book these alternating chapters dragged the pace down and managed to separate this reader from Smudge completely. It makes sense as to why the author decided to employ this new style for that part of Smudge’s life, but it did, unfortunately, detract from the reading.

From a third of the way in, this became less about enjoying the read, watching events unfold, and trying to work out where this was going to end up, and more about watching a very frustrated teenage girl crying out for help turn into a very damaged woman in a very obvious downward spiral.

This did grip me from the first page, but by the halfway mark I found myself considering putting it aside in favour of other titles, and the rest became a little hard to push through from time to time.

 

Once again, Morgan offers up some fabulously quotable lines, but it became hard to relate to the characters at times. Character motives often didn’t add up, which might not be a bad thing because people in the real world don’t always add up, but there was no emotion for this reader when it came to confrontations between the characters, of which there were quite a few.

This book just feels a little… incomplete, and there were a couple of things about the story which didn’t quite add up, or which were never resolved.

The gems that Morgan came out with in this book will be enough to make me seek out her work in the future, but she might not go straight to the top the pile.

 

Oh, and the kid was cute.

‘Oh, it’s you,’ said the little girl. ‘Where have you been?’
Smudge put her hand up to her hair, which was brushed and felt strangely conspicuous as a result.
‘Yeah, sorry about that,’ she said. ‘I’ve not been very well.’
‘Liar!’ exploded Heloise. ‘I heard you moving about up there. You don’t move about if you’re not very well: you lie in bed and go “Oh, I’m not very well” and people bring you things.’

 

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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