Beside Myself | Ann Morgan

Did you love ROOM? ELIZABETH IS MISSING? Did the little girls from THE SHINING scare the poop into your pants? Then it is highly possible you may fall in love with BESIDE MYSELF from Ann Morgan. Her debut fictional novel after her first book READING AROUND THE WORLD: CONFESSIONS OF A LITERARY EXPLORER (published in 2015) in where she decided to read a book from every country in 2012, a truly amazing feat. BESIDE MYSELF is a psychological thriller that is a based on tormented and somewhat psychotic twins. It is out now from the peeps at Allen & Unwin Book Publishers, it is no longer available from the publisher’s site so you will need to track it down at bookstores or online. Kernel Kate appears to have enjoyed this one and her full review follows…..all the best….JK.

 

Beside Myself US Book Cover Image

 

BY KATE DAWES

Have you ever wanted to be someone else? For Identical twins Helen and Ellie being someone else is as easy as playing a game, swapping clothes and personalities to see who they can fool. But when one twin refuses to swap back both their lives change forever in Ann Morgan’s BESIDE MYSELF.

We first meet Helen and Ellie as seven year olds, identical aside from their characteristic hairstyles which most people use to tell them apart. But in personality they couldn’t be more different. Helen is the leader, the ‘normal’ one and their mother’s favourite. Helen picks on Ellie, always trying to teach her a lesson for just being herself. A little naive and too trusting, Ellie usually falls for it. The day’s lesson is a game, they will swap clothes and see who they can fool. After a few pointers on how to be the leader from Helen they set off and after successfully convincing their Teacher’s Aide it’s off to trick their mother. Upon reaching home however the girls find everything has changed. Their mother, who formerly moped around the house barely paying attention to them has moved in her new boyfriend. Too preoccupied to notice the girls have traded places they head off to bed considering the game a success. The real shock for Helen comes in the morning when Ellie refuses to switch back and with their mother convinced nothing is different she finds her life changed forever.

 

Author Ann Morgan Image
Author Ann Morgan Image: Photo Credit: Unknown

 

Almost simultaneously we meet Smudge. At rock bottom after years of being identity lost, disbelieved, travelling from one disaster to another as a result of that one childhood game this is how our original Helen thinks of herself. She’s dragged out of yet another stupor on the floor of her filthy flat by a noise. Almost accidentally knocking the phone off the wall she hears her mothers voice coming through telling her her sister ‘Helen’ has had an accident. Despite blocking it out the brother-in-law she has never met turns up on her doorstep frightening her into traffic and hurtling her back into memories, and relationships, she thought she had escaped.

BESIDE MYSELF follows Helen in alternating chapters through her ‘adult’ and ‘child’ story lines with her child story arc ending at almost the same point her adult story starts. Helen’s character is so damaged and her memories so blurry that throughout the concurrent stories it feels like each chapter unleashes forgotten memories and informs character traits which we see but don’t really understand. While the other characters in the book contribute a lot to both storylines propelling the plot line along as Helen is incapable of doing, we see it all from Helen’s perspective and with her viewpoint crowded with half memories and misinterpretations as well as drugs, alcohol and other issues it almost becomes a psychological mystery untangling the internal and external factors that have determined her life.

 

Beside Myself Book Cover Image

 

As a first time novelist Morgan has created a cohesive and compelling story with a solid lead character. With a concept that could have easily ventured into soap opera territory Morgan has instead given us a gritty, sometimes bleak realism around Helen’s life and her experiences post identity swap as well as leaving us to question just how much she is a product of her environment and how much of her downward spiral would have happened anyway. Bordering on a perverse social experiment where twins are swapped Helen’s psyche is somehow more battered and damaged by the fact that their game was her creation which went horribly wrong.

Morgan’s previous book READING AROUND THE WORLD: CONFESSIONS OF A LITERARY EXPLORER chronicled her attempts to read a book from every country and demonstrates if nothing else that she is widely read and while she has said she had the idea four or five years ago some of the influences of READING AROUND THE WORLD can still be felt. In a recent blog post she commented on Zulmira Ribieiro Tavares’s FAMILY HEIRLOOMS “The discrepancy between our private selves and the faces we present to the world is everywhere apparent in the book.” and this could equally well be applied BESIDE MYSELF with the face Helen presents to the world being at odds with the person she identifies as.

A wonderful first outing into fiction, Ann Morgan’s BESIDE MYSELF is worth a read for anyone who enjoys other families’ drama or psychological games.

 

4 and a Half Pops

 

Having always loved stories one of Kernel Kate’s most frequent childhood memories was her parents telling her in the early hours that it was way too late to still be reading and to go to sleep, but she would always sneak in the end of the chapter. Her love of stories led to a career in movies as well as remaining an avid reader of everything from novels to academic papers and junk mail. She makes a perfect reading machine fit to the Salty Cob.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or the publisher – credit has been given to photographers where possible and images will be removed on request

 

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