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