The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
|The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Caroline Waiting|
|Summary: I really enjoyed this beautifully written book. I loved the descriptions of the two main locations and Stephanie Bishop creates a wonderful sense of place and time. The lyrical descriptions of the landscapes and climate are haunting and lingered long after I finished the book. I was gripped by the story of Henry and Charlotte's marriage and it made me reflect upon what it would have been like to be a wife and mother fifty years ago. I was also intrigued and dismayed by Henry's experience of racism, in both England and Australia, and his growing feeling of alienation from both societies.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 277||Date: August 2015|
|Publisher: Tinder Press|
|External links: Author's website|
This is a beautifully written book, located both in England and Australia, about adulthood, changing responsibilities, and the universal desire for identity and belonging. This theme is also reflected in the search for union and fulfilment in the marriage of Henry and Charlotte, struggling with the changes imposed on them by parenthood and family life across two continents.
It is the 1960's and Henry, a young, academic Anglo -Indian student meets Charlotte, a talented young artist. Initially, they delight in the idiosyncrasies of one another and in their very different backgrounds and cultures. Charlotte is convinced that love is all you need even when her mother asks her what they will do for money. However, parenthood changes everything (as it always does) and Charlotte feels overwhelmed by the constant demands of pregnancy and motherhood. Henry persuades her that a new life in sunny Australia will be the answer to her restlessness and their search for marital and parental harmony.
One of the main attractions of the book is the beautifully constructed depictions of the contrasting landscapes. Sullen, overcast Cambridge is the setting of their first home and the author paints a powerful picture of frozen ground, thin, cold air, a damp, claustrophobic, cramped house and the endless dreariness of an English winter. Small wonder that Henry, who grew up in the heat and colour of India longs for a new life in Australia, tempted by the adverts encouraging people to come over to the sunny side.
Henry persuades a reluctant Charlotte to leave her beloved Cambridgeshire countryside and move to Perth in SW Australia and take up a new life as wife of a lecturer at the local university. Again there is a wonderfully vivid account of the Australian summer with the heat, dryness and dust. Charlotte's body is 'swollen with the heat. She describes her ankles red with mosquito bites and her face slippery with sweat.
I delighted in the poetic style of Stephanie Bishop's writing and loved the evocative images of the Australian and English (and Indian) landscapes. She captures the intensity of the heat in the southern hemisphere and contrasts this with the melancholic dimness of an English winter. Readers will be affected by the many opportunities to respond emotionally to the stirring descriptions of scenery and wildlife. These illustrations give an intimacy to the story and enhance the characterisation of both Henry and Charlotte. We see Charlotte's intense love of the damp and the cold; she sees the bones beneath the landscape and the wonderful freedom of being out in the open air. Henry in the meantime, longs for warmth and he sees the English weather as a punishment. Right from the start of the book there is a sense of their bewilderment with one another and their growing inability to compromise and achieve mutual happiness.
However, In contrast to my enjoyment of the evocative language of the book, I was sometimes frustrated with the story of Henry and Charlotte's relationship. Their lack of understanding for one another's predicament and their growing inability to communicate with one another made me long to shake them. I found it hard to warm to Charlotte and her state of continual exhaustion (all young mothers are exhausted to a greater or lesser extent). Bishop describes the huge demands of motherhood and how the suffocating love Charlotte experiences with her daughters effectively blocks her artistic potential.
I really enjoyed this book. Stephanie Bishop is an exceptionally fine writer and I loved the background settings of the story. The narrative of the changes brought about by motherhood is intriguing and raises important questions about the ultimate compatibility of creativity alongside marriage and children. The book is set 50 years ago (a convenient period) and you are left wondering whether Henry and Charlotte would experience the same problems in a more interconnected world of the 21st century. You are invited to empathise with Charlotte but many will question her choices and feel that ultimately her situation is a tragedy of her own making.
In view of the themes highlighted in the book, I think The Other Side of the World would make a brilliant choice for Book Groups and for discussion about the nature of parenthood. I would really recommend it.
If you enjoyed this book, you will certainly enjoy any of the books by Maggie O'Farrell, such as After You'd Gone and The Distance Between Us. You might also like to read other well regarded female authors such as Kate Atkinson, and particularly Life After Life.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop at Amazon.com.
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