Article published on July 15, 2015.
Charlotte and Henry are a young married couple struggling to connect with each other in a tiny, damp cottage in Cambridge. Charlotte finds motherhood has stripped her of her identity and Henry longs for the heat and sun from his childhood in India. When he comes across a brochure promising ‘a sunnier future’ in Australia he thinks he has found the solution for them all – but he has underestimated the challenges of making a new life on the other side of the world and instead of drawing them closer together they drift ever further apart. Henry attempts to find solace in his work and Charlotte is left to tackle a domestic life she feels fundamentally unsuited to in a climate she can’t bear.
This is a painfully intimate portrait of a marriage in crisis and of a woman on the verge of losing herself. As a reader it is hard to know where your sympathies should lie, such is the skill with which Stephanie Bishop exposes the thoughts and feelings of both characters. Setting it in the 1960s gives it a marked frame of feminist reference, as traditional gender roles are challenged and the roles of man and wife are cast into an unforgiving spotlight.
Can a woman with ambition ever really feel fulfilled by marriage and motherhood alone? At a time when the boundaries between women who work and stay-at-home mums were far less blurred than they are now it is not difficult to understand Charlotte’s desperation for escape. Can a man who has never felt like he belongs ever expect to cure his restlessness? Henry’s love for his family is more straightforward than Charlotte’s but was the move to Australia for them – or for him?
When Henry is summoned to his ailing mother in India and Charlotte’s life becomes increasingly isolated she comes up with her own solution – and the consequences are devastating.
This a read-in-one-sitting kind of book, and perfect for book clubs. You’ll be debating this one for hours!
– Mel Mitchell
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop, published by Tinder Press on 13th August, 2015 at £16.99
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