Book review: Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop

Tuesday, August 28, 2018 Permalink

I’m worried I’ve left it a bit too long between reading this book and writing the review to be as articulate as I would like. But I suspect the sentiments pretty much remain as they were when I started reading it a week ago.

I put it aside you see, for a couple of days, before getting back to it and that’s something that NEVER happens. Unless it’s non-fiction, cos #meh.

I wasn’t NOT enjoying it enough to viciously flick it aside it but I really wasn’t connecting with it at all. At the time I put it down to my mood. I’ve been busy and stressed and having to over-think a book just wasn’t what the doctor ordered.

When I got back to it though, I was more engaged. Enamored even. For a while.

Book review: Man Out of Time by Stephanie BishopMan Out of Time
by Stephanie Bishop
Published by Hachette Australia
on August 28th 2018
Source: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 0733636349
Pages: 304

When Stella's father, Leon, disappears in September 2001, the police knock at her door. She baulks at their questions, not sure how to answer. 'What if I just write it down for you.'

The first time Stella sensed that something was wrong was on her ninth birthday. There was an accident, and when she opened her eyes there was the tang of blood in her mouth. Leon was beside her. But not quite there. In the winter, when her father finally came home from hospital, he looked different. Looked at her differently.

Now he was missing, and Stella held the key to his discovery. But did he want to be found? And after all that has passed, could Stella bring herself to help him?

Stella's whole life has been stained by her father's very struggle to exist. Would this be her inheritance too? Could she choose the steady minutes of an ordinary day? Or would she follow the path of a man out of time?

I won’t belabour my issues. In essence I suspect I was mostly kinda confused. I didn’t enjoy the beginning and really didn’t fancy the inclusion of the grainy photographs in a mass-printed book which seemed a little pointless.

It felt as if Bishop was trying too hard to make this book something else, something that didn’t sit comfortably with her own style. But it’s obviously more likely that it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I was confused.

ie.┬áIt’s me not you!

A paragraph was repeated (pp 14-15) – worded slightly differently. “Oh my god!” I thought, wondering how that got through the editors. But the same paragraphs were included later (p 261) so I’m thinking it must have meant to really drive the thought home, or just be a ultra arty / creative?

I struggled with Leon’s narrative and his use of second person, though kinda writing as if in first person.

Stella’s mother Frances seems quite indifferent towards her husband on the day of Stella’s ninth birthday and it appeared as if the couple barely had a relationship with each other; though later Frances implies she’s prepared to go to any depths to understand…

What she wanted to say to the doctor was that she was happy to be brought down with Leon, if that was what the doctor was really asking, if that was what must occur in order for her to understand where Leon went and what happened to him there. p 132

There’s also Frances’ references to some of Leon’s predilections (ie. violent porn and bestiality) and I found myself confused about splashes of green and the woman’s dress covered in blood. There also seemed to be a lot of missing years between the bulk of the narrative and the final events, and I wasn’t sure where Stella was as there’s a comment about being treated gently because she’s a foreigner.

Basically I couldn’t work out if there was some be metaphor underlying everything… as there’s a recurring theme of death and time and mention of Stella’s forgotten or missing years, And I really didn’t ‘get’ the presence of the judge in Leon’s life.

So many things I didn’t understand or just wasn’t capable of translating in my tired little brain: too metaphorical for this obtuse literal-thinker or perhaps I looked for more than there was.


Bishop writes beautifully. Phrase after phrase sung. Her ability to string together words is bewitching and what ultimately kept me reading, though I was going through the motions comprehension-wise.

And more importantly she deals with the issue of mental illness impressively and realistically.

And when it comes down to it this book is about mental illness. We’re privy to the thought processes and self-awareness of Leon, in the throes of various stages of wellness; and we see that he adores his daughter. (Too much so? That was part of the ‘things I don’t get’ bit!)

But Bishop also beautifully gives us a sense of what it’s like for family and friends of people with a mental illness. The shame, the guilt, the frustration, the hatred, and the love – no matter what.

And then there’s the legacy. It’s something Stella eventually grapples with given her father (and his family’s) history. She references the philosopher* Camus in her thoughts about the conflict between ‘the innate irrationality of the world and our desire for it to be otherwise’, pondering if one can live with the mismatch (p 284).

The backcover blurb is a tad misleading.. as if Stella searches for her father after his disappearance, but it’s her memory she searches, I guess for the man he once was and father she once knew.

I didn’t feel as if I engaged a lot with Stella. I know I should be more sympathetic cos she was dealing with a lot of crap, but she’s not particularly likeable as a child and I often felt myself identifying more with her mother and father than I did her…. as our lead and guide through the quagmire of mental illness, although we were given a lot of insight into her character.

It was a complicated strategy: her rebellion largely faked in order to express a feeling of restlessness that was true. And if she adopted, in turn, unambitious forms of defiance this was due to the fact that insurgency was not really the point, even though it was how others would soon interpret it. She was simply lonely, and bored. p 185

I’ve not done so as I didn’t want to taint my thoughts on the book or my perceptions, but I’m keen to read other reviews. And – at the moment I work with A LOT of mental health professionals so I’d also be interested in their thoughts on the book… on Leon, Frances and Stella.

Man Out of Time by Stephanie Bishop was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

3.5 stars (cos 4 for the writing and 3 for f*cking with my mind).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

* had to google this!


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