Book review: The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

Monday, June 29, 2015 Permalink

I used to avoid Australian books like the plague. They were too familiar, their landscapes too prosaic and characters too mundane. I didn’t want to read about my own backyard. I wanted something different. I needed to escape.

But slowly and surely I’ve found myself reading Australian author after Australian author and bewildered at the talent on my doorstep. I’ve been entertained by fascinating stories and enchanted by beautiful words and phrases.

And this offering by Stephanie Bishop, The Other Side of the World, is no different.

Indeed, there’s something addictive about Bishop’s writing. The pace of this novel is melodic and sometimes achingly slow but I found myself turning page after page to read it in a sitting.

other side of the world

It’s 1963 and artist Charlotte is grappling with challenges of motherhood; while her husband Henry, who grew up in India, is struggling with the English winter, a growing family and his wife’s malaise. So when he sees a brochure inviting Britons to migrate to Australia it’s a no-brainer. At least for him. Charlotte’s not sold on the idea and even less enthused when they eventually arrive in Perth.

As expected the couple aren’t prepared for life in a new country and they each cope differently with the changes before them. And as the months pass Charlotte finds herself clinging to her old life and unable to see a future in this new world, while Henry cannot imagine going back.

Although there are a few supporting characters, this book is all about Charlotte and Henry. I occasionally found myself a little flummoxed by their relationship, but—in reality—their bond is surprisingly strong. Despite everything. Each of them wants the other to be happy. They respect each other and their ‘work’ and there are no agendas. And yet…

Bishop does an amazing job with the setting and the environment is akin to a character in this book. Both the snowy cold English weather; and the hot dry stillness of suburban Australia feature strongly. But although this sense of ‘place’ is all-pervasive, we quickly learn that happiness and/or contentment often requires more than a change of our surroundings.

This beautifully-written and wistful tale by Bishop should appeal to a broad audience. Many will relate to Charlotte’s loss of identity following motherhood and her need to rediscover her passion; or Henry’s challenges in a new culture and workplace and his inability to make his wife happy. And then of course there’s the young Australia, on the verge of adulthood.

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop, published by Hachette Australia will be available from 30 June 2015.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

Buy now from Booktopia (Australia) or Amazon (International).

Do you favour books with great plots, characters, or writing? Or all three?

13 Comments
  • Lola
    June 30, 2015

    I haven’t read a lot that take place were I live either, it’s not that I am actively avoiding them, it just feels like there are less books that take place in Europe than in the US. I have only read a few books set in Australia so far. The plot of a family moving to a new country and havign to adapt there sounds interesting. I love it when authors describe the settings so well it’s almost a character, I like getting a feel for the setting and having it come alive in my mind. Great review!

    • Debbish
      June 30, 2015

      Yes… on one hand Charlotte seems to enjoy the nearby river and rustic rural-ness of her new setting; but on the other she finds the heat, flies, mosquitos and dryness really oppressive. Which is understandable. We actually also get a glimpse of Henry’s life in India as he returns briefly in the novel.

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    June 30, 2015

    Mmm. Sounds like it might be worth a try. I’m a big fan of books set in Australia.

    • Debbish
      June 30, 2015

      This one is funny Michelle as they’re talking as if going to Australia is akin to returning to the dark ages. I thought they’d be pleasantly surprised but I do wonder what 1964 suburban Perth was like. Having said that… there’s a message there about happiness only coming from within etc etc, so…

  • Nise' (Under the Boardwalk)
    June 30, 2015

    Very interesting plot. I can’t imagine moving to another country. I don’t have a preference of character over plot, but do want an excellently written book.

    • Debbish
      June 30, 2015

      Yes, beautiful writing usually overcomes everything – though having said that I struggled with Paulo Coelho’s latest (Adultery). He writes beautifully but the plot wasn’t interesting and the characters not particularly likeable. I kept reading (because of the writing) but really didn’t enjoy it!

  • Jess
    June 30, 2015

    I need a strong plot or characters generally. And also usually avoid stories set in my own backyard. Although there are certainly aspects of this which sound really relatable and appealing to me having moved abroad and back home with husband and kids in tow. I am definitely curious to see how the relationship pans out between the main characters.

    • Debbish
      July 1, 2015

      You’d probably relate to this one Jess – the relocating etc…

  • divabooknerd
    July 2, 2015

    I’m thrilled to see that you’ve been able to immerse yourself in the work of our Aussie authors, I always tend to gravitate towards them for the same reason you were a little put off. The familiarity and connection to not only the characters, but landscape as well. There’s nothing quite like it. This sounds like an amazing story. I think most Aussies of any age could relate to this one, my own mother migrated here from the UK and still tells me stories of what it was like to start life in Australia and how differently vast the two countries are and having to adjust. To travel across the world and begin a new life in a foreign country would be a mixture of excitement and nerves, and this sounds as though it explores both sides of the coin. Not to mention being wonderfully written too. Fabulous review Deb! Thrilled that you really enjoyed this one <3

    • Debbish
      July 2, 2015

      Thanks Kelly. Am sure you’ll enjoy it if you get a chance to read it! You’re mother would most definitely relate to it!

  • Kay clayton
    August 5, 2015

    But…..what decision did she make in the end,did she go home or did she walk away?

    • Debbish
      August 5, 2015

      I don’t think we’re supposed to know! Of course the over-analyser in me kept trying to work out which side of the street she was on etc!

    • Erin
      April 7, 2017

      I’ve been to googling and googling trying to find out that answer to no avail ! I’m going to re-read the ending

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