Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
I’d heard some good things about this book so I bumped it up on the review pile. Good move – this psychological thriller was terrific. Here’s the blurb:
Helen and Ellie are identical twins – like two peas in a pod, everyone says. The girls know this isn’t true, though: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower. Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day. But Ellie refuses to swap back…
And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up. Her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school, the favour of her mother and the future she had dreamed of are all gone to a sister who blossoms in the approval that used to belong to Helen. And as the years pass, she loses not only her memory of that day but also herself – until eventually only ‘Smudge’ is left.
Twenty-five years later, Smudge receives a call from out of the blue. It threatens to pull her back into her sister’s dangerous orbit, but if this is her only chance to face the past, how can she resist?
It’s great when you encounter a book that wraps you in its grip from start to finish. Beside Myself kept me on tenterhooks the whole way through, teasing me with its cleverness, from the story to the telling. Beside Myself has readers wondering if the sisters really swapped at all, or if they swapped back after all, even if it was all in the narrator’s head … as fast as I came up with a theory, I dismissed it and the final twist caught me out. ‘How?’ I asked’ ‘Why?’ I pondered. I love that in a book.
For a moment, she had the unnerving feeling that the two of them were actors on the set of a bad, old-fashioned play, performing for an invisible audience.
A story of identity, Beside Myself ponders a question we can all relate to: Who am I? And the question is explored so brilliantly; the identity swap, a simple game at the outset, becomes something far deeper, impacting on each of the twins in complex ways, highlighting how fragile the notion of identity really is. Each twin battles her sense of self and acts out her fears and confusion in disturbing and sad ways (although the reader really only sees one side for most of the book). The novel also highlights the complexity of mental illness and that feeling of being “beside oneself” or apart from one’s true self (if indeed, you are sure of what is real and what is not). And how important is one’s name to one’s true self? Dark and clever, this was an addictive read.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.