Friday, 21 August 2015
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
review by Maryom
For Charlotte and Henry the Cambridge winter of 1963 seems to be stretching on for ever. Their small cottage, once cosy and welcoming for two, now feels cramped and damp, filled with baby paraphernalia and wet washing. Overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood, Charlotte has neither time nor energy to pursue her artistic career, and, when the doctor confirms her fear that another baby is on the way, she feels the walls closing in and suffocating her. Henry, born and raised in India, has never really acclimatised to the English weather and craves heat and dryness. When he sees a brochure advertising assisted passage to Australia, he thinks he's found the answer to all their problems - the weather will be warmer, there'll be no more sodden winters, they've have plenty of space to bring up their children with a larger house and a garden; Charlotte, too tired to argue, goes along with his plans, never really believing they'll come to fruition.
The Other Side of the World is a compelling, insightful read charting the break-down of a marriage. Both Charlotte and Henry are searching something that's been lost as the realities of life have taken over.
Charlotte feels her identity slipping away and fears she's becoming nothing more than a child-minding machine. Although the scenes where she takes out her frustration on the children were difficult to read, I could totally empathise with Charlotte about the boredom of being stuck at home all day with no one more intelligent than a three-year old to talk to. These days of course many of these problems wouldn't arise - her children would go along to nursery and she'd pick up her work, but it left me wondering how many women, until recently, felt compelled to stay at home, to put their 'real' lives on hold out of necessity rather than choice.
Henry's issues are different - he's not quite 'British', and not quite 'Indian', was sent away from home to boarding school, first in India, then in England, and since then has been searching for that elusive concept of 'home'. Maybe because Charlotte's problems resonated with me, I didn't feel Henry's situation was explored as much.
It's beautifully written, will make you cry and tear your hair out in desperation but it's the characterisation that makes this book - as a portrait of a mother stretched beyond tolerance it's up there with Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand That First Held Mine but too much is down to it, and the plot/story arc alone couldn't have held me.
Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Tinder Press
Genre - Adult fiction,