Thursday, 29 October 2015

Beside myself - Ann Morgan - dark and compelling

The blurb

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 behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.

My thoughts:

This dark domestic drama heavily featuring mental illness is going to be quite hard to review without giving too much away, yet I wouldn't really describe it as a thriller, like the blurb makes out.

As described its the story of identical twins Ellie and Helen who when very young decide to confuse everyone by swapping identities and seeing if anyone can tell them apart, but this misfires on one twin when the other refuses to swap back and the other is unwillingly trapped in her twins identity. This continues to have major repercussions in her life and when we meet her in her adult years, she is barely holding on to reality, struggling to cope with life, mentally confused and yet I really warmed to her.

It's rather confusing, written in the main by a person with complex mental health issues, it's disjointed in parts and rather hectic, jumping about and I also found it confusing working out which twin was which to begin with never mind once they played the silly game of swapping identities which has a massive impact on the rest of their lives.

However it's compellingly readable, grabbed my attention and made me want to stick with it all the way and had rather a lot of empathy for "Smudge" the narrator with the obvious problems, its immediately obvious she is one of the twins, but you wonder if what she has become, living a chaotic and sad life has been created by the circumstances surrounding the identity swap or if and what are the underlying issues which have caused this to come about.

Bit by bit the way her life has developed is revealed and it's terribly sad, harrowing in fact and makes for pretty thought provoking reading. However I was expecting some kind of OMG moment, a big reveal, but it's more a series of little events revealed gradually that dismay rather than shock.

I agree with other readers that the twins Mother is a completely despicable person. The whole book is overflowing with flawed and dislikeable people, as is real life. There are a couple of questions which remained unanswered and unaddressed, and something I began to think we would discover had happened which never came to light. Its very well written, albeit in a necessarily manic and confusing way that sets the tone extremely well. As an insight to mental health issues its a must read, for anyone expecting a thriller it may disappoint a little.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Bloomsbury for my advance ebook copy.

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