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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What I’m Reading: Beside Myself

I heard about Beside Myself by Ann Morgan back in the Fall as part of one of the 2016 book previews arranged by the publishers and put it on hold immediately. [Thanks "On-Order" catalog records]

Here is the publisher's summary [which gives a very good set up in terms of the bare bones plot AND sets the ominous tone perfectly]:
Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behavior, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex. 
Here’s what you need to know to tell patrons about the appeal of this novel.

The story is told in two alternating voices. The first is Helen from age six moving forward in time. The second is told by adult Ellie (who is really Helen) in the present moving forward from when Helen (who is really Ellie) has been in a terrible accident. The chapters are short and fast paced, switching back and forth every other chapter without anything to mark the shifts.

If you think that sounds confusing, you are correct, but it is also AWESOME.

Yes you need to pay attention here. Not only is it confusing because Helen is Ellie and Ellie is Helen, but the time frame is constantly shifting. It is purposely disorienting. And as a reader of a lot of psychological suspense, I am grateful for this. The way this novel is written and structured adds to the book's appeal. The swirling, twisting, spinning plot adds to the tension and anxiety of the story as well as underlining the issues of identity at the story's core.

You cannot escape the tension, ominous tone, and identity confusion even for a second. And it is that tension that lies at the heart of why people enjoy psychological suspense. Nicely done.

Even though you have to pay attention, the writing is so effortless and the narrative voice so compelling that the novel still moves briskly. You want to keep turning the pages to see what did or will happen. You can read this book in a sitting or two.

Besides Ellie and Helen, there are other family characters here including the mom, stepdad, half brother, a husband to one of the sisters and their daughter. Every character in this story is flawed. No one escapes unscathed. This also adds to the unease and tension Morgan means for you to feel.

There is also a great, evil twist at the end. I got angry at the character who admitted to the twist in a way I haven’t felt since reading Gone Girl or even Atonement.

This book will make you question the concept of familial love. It will make you look askance at your parents, siblings, and spouse. Talk about extreme unease. In fact, more than anything this is a book about the tone and mood. Everything that happens leads back to the tension. If you cannot handle serious psychological suspense, this one is not for you. Me? I love it.

Three Words That Describe This Book: extremely tense, intricately plotted, flawed characters

Readalikes: As I read Beside Myself I wrote down a few notes about readalikes.  The style of writing with the back and forth points of view and timeline with the unreliable narrator, and the narrative voice was definitely reminiscent of Girl on the Train, but the intense menace, unease, and identity issues here are also important. In those ways, I think this novel is more similar to Before I Go To Sleep. Use the links I provided to my reviews for these two titles to find a few more readalike options.

Besides Myself is also a great option for people on the long waiting list for the about to be released The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer. Both are British, psychological suspense tales that involve “missing” children and a back and forth story telling style.

And I know the comparison is overused, but in this case, Gone Girl is an excellent option. Between the tension, intricate plot, many flawed characters and big twists all framed by an intense family drama, fans of Flynn’s blockbuster will find much to enjoy here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Another possible readalike for this might be "Among Others" by Jo Walton.