Aussie Book Review: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and the energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, wants things to be as they were and can't face the thought of another English winter.
A brochure slipped through the letterbox slot brings him the answer: 'Australia brings out the best in you'.
Despite wanting to stay in the place that she knows, Charlotte is too worn out to fight. Before she has a chance to realise what it will mean, she is travelling to the other side of the world. Arriving in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on both Henry and Charlotte and slowly reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte is left wondering if there is anywhere she belongs and how far she'll go to find her way home . . .”
It’s been a number of weeks since I finished this novel and I still find myself stumbling over my thoughts and having difficulty formulating a review. It's a book that I thought would be an easy read and I was so looking forward to cracking open the stunning cover, thinking that I had finally found a story that I could relate to on an even more personal level with the subject of being an immigrant at its core.
It’s so much more than that though because I found myself face-to-face with possibly one of the most complex characters I have ever come across and one whom I came to dislike intensely.
As most of you that read my reviews know, character is one of the most important elements of fiction to me and, although I did find common ground between myself and Charlotte in terms of nostalgia, the sheer plethora of emotion that an immigrant experiences as well as the depression from which she quite obviously suffers (particularly in the first half of the book), during the second half I just found her to be rather ungrateful and whiny as she constantly wallowed in self-pity. I also just couldn’t comprehend the way she felt about her children and the manner in which she treated them. Don’t get me wrong, speaking from experience, immigration is by no means a walk in the park and I understand that everyone navigates it in a different manner, with some unable to settle in a new land, but at the end of the day it’s what we make of it.
Perhaps this was Stephanie Bishop's aim all along when she created Charlotte, but it was for these reasons and the fact that the depths of her despair became so loud that I found myself unable to fully connect with her. Despite these misgivings and the fact that Charlotte made me uncomfortable (or perhaps because of it?), I was already hooked by the writing.
Inspired by her grandparents own story and almost veering into psychological suspense territory as she explores themes of the fragility of relationships, depression, displacement and identity, Stephanie's writing is eloquent, her sense of place very retro and strong, her style evocative and it was these things that drew me into this melancholy novel set in 1960’s England and Australia. I only wish the ending hadn't been so ambiguous!
I wish to thank the publisher, Hachette Books Australia, for providing me with a hard copy for review.
About the Author
A stunning emerging Australian writer, Stephanie Bishop's first novel was The Singing, for which she was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Australian Novelists. The Singing was also highly commended for the Kathleen Mitchell Award. The Other Side of the World, her second novel, was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Australian/Vogel's Literary Award under the title Dream England.
Stephanie's fiction and poetry have appeared in Southerly, Overland and Island and she is a frequent contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, The Australian, The Sydney Review of Books, The Australian Book Review and the Sydney Morning Herald.
She is a recipient of an Australia Council New Work Grant, and Asialink Fellowship, and Australian Society of Authors Mentorship, a Varuna Mentorship Fellowship and Varuna Residency Fellowship.
She holds a PhD from Cambridge and is currently a lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of New South Wales.
Stephanie is currently at work on two new projects - a third novel and a collection of essays.
She lives in Sydney.