Book Review: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
This beautiful book is well worth reading if you’ve ever felt in need of a change of scene, especially to the point of it being the answer to all your problems. The Other Side of the World is an extreme example of the grass is always greener that might help you appreciate home more or simply help you realise that running away isn’t the solution. Of course, it could also go the other way and make you more determined to plan your escape.
Cambridge 1963. Charlotte struggles to reconnect with the woman she was before children, and to find the time and energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, cannot face the thought of another English winter. A brochure slipped through the letterbox gives him the answer: ‘Australia brings out the best in you’.
Charlotte is too worn out to resist, and before she knows it is travelling to the other side of the world. But on their arrival 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…
I don’t think you have to be a parent (I’m not) to empathise with the main character, Charlotte. We can all feel lost at times and struggle to connect with our own lives, searching for a purpose and out of sync with the people in it. Although I imagine if you are a parent, and particularly a mother, who’s also creative, you’ll appreciate her struggle to balance having the time and energy to paint with the demands of a young family all the more so. What I did take from Charlotte’s situation was her need to be alone and apart – from the mundanity of household chores and the constant need for repairs and maintenance which a home brings with it – in order to create.
The description of Charlotte’s reaction to the Cambridgeshire countryside, and her walks in it, are some of my favourite parts of this novel: mists and damp air permeate the UK section as she squelches across muddy fields through the muted colours of England. Don’t get me wrong, I like sunshine and warm weather, but I definitely missed that autumnal chill which nips at your nose and cheeks, and rain that seeps into the earth, and you, when I lived in warmer countries. It’s home to me, both the way it makes you feel alive when out in it and also that feeling of sheer bliss when you are back indoors and can thaw out again.
I could understand Henry’s need to escape and to find a place for them to be together on more equal terms but I did feel uncomfortable at how little understanding he seemed to have of how tired and worn down Charlotte was, and why she put up so little resistance to their move to Perth. But it was endemic of problems which would become all the more apparent under the harsh glare of the Australian sun. Stephanie Bishop’s description dazzles you in the same way as I imagine the Australian sun does. Perth appears bleached of colour, like an over-exposed photo, and it seems to be harder to find any shade to hide in.
I know not everyone enjoys ambiguous endings but I’m thankful that the author ended it where she did. I know how I wanted the story to finish and can have that. I think I would have felt disappointed, if that freedom had been taken away from me. The Other Side of the World is an involving and profoundly moving novel about marriage, conflicting needs and compromises, and how to find our way home.
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is published by Tinder Press and is available as a paperback and in hardback and as an ebook and an audiobook. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. To find out more about the author, visit her Author Website or follow her on Twitter. I received a review copy of this book from the publisher but have since bought myself a copy, together with one for the giveaway below.
Leave a comment below, telling me whether you would move to Australia or prefer to stay here in the UK, and I’ll pick a winner at 5pm on 9 December.