The Other Side of the World | Stephanie Bishop

Kernel Fi offers up a beautiful review of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD by Stephanie Bishop, she thoroughly examines this amazing Australian but more multicultural book. In Fi’s words “THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is the sort of book that occasionally comes along and surprises you. It is a timely reminder of the vast array of talented Australian writers whose style is not limited by geography or settings.” Perfectly said Fi!! This is one to read and/ or buy your mum!! THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is out now from the folks at Hachette Australia, you will find it available in most bookstores or you can obtain it HERE in paperback or audio book. Enjoy this review…..it’s a beauty……JK.

 

The Other Side of the World Book Cover Image
The Other Side of the World | Stephanie Bishop | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Book Cover Image

 

BY FIONA FYFE

Stephanie Bishop’s first novel THE SINGING, was concerned with love and loss and how the past continues to haunt us long after it’s over. For that novel she was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. It isn’t hard to see why THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD received high commendations also and was shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. Bishop has a beautiful writing style that is pure literary prose. There is an artful grace in the way she constructs sentences and weaves words into a rich fabric.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is an astonishingly emotive book. Bishop effectively draws the reader into the realms of her characters but more significantly, she manages to evoke powerful feelings and somehow guide her audience into the heart and soul of the protagonist’s journey.

The story begins in Cambridge in 1963. Henry and Charlotte are new parents with another baby on the way. Henry is an Anglo-Indian whose mother sent him to England at a very young age following the death of his sister and his mother’s subsequent break down. A University lecturer, Henry yearns for warmer climes and convinces Charlotte that it would be in the family’s best interests to relocate to Australia. Accepting a post at a university in Perth, but very much against Charlotte’s better judgment, they set sail for their new life.

Australia of the 1960’s is a far cry from our contemporary multicultural society. Henry realises quite early in the piece that with his swarthy complexion and dark hair, he is considered to be different from his colleagues and neighbours. The fact that Charlotte is suddenly aware of his otherness in a way that never seemed to matter before, causes Henry to feel a sense of shame. Despite his feelings of humiliation, Henry determines to make the best of their new situation and secretly relishes the heat, the water and the freedom from constant downpour. For in this environment, Henry feels largely at home. The perpetual sunshine, the insects, the tropical plants all serve to remind him of a happy Indian childhood.

It is a different story for Charlotte. She finds her new environment entirely disagreeable.  There is no doubt that she struggles with motherhood. With two young girls to care for and no familiar faces during the long, hot days while Henry is at work, she feels isolated and lonely. With the relentless demands of Lucie and May and plagued by overwhelming fatigue and inertia, she starts to wonder whatever happened to her other life? Where has it gone, this life where she was a successful artist, spontaneous and unrestricted?

 

Stephanie Bishop Author Image
The Other Side of the World | Stephanie Bishop | Salty Popcorn Book Review | Author Image: Photo Credit to Craig Peihopa

 

Charlotte’s character is not unique in her yearning for a break in the tedium of parenting and housework.  How many women have forsaken careers or freedom to assimilate into a family unit only to feel frustrated and unsettled?  This is more than a comment on post-natal blues, however. It is an exploration of the concept of identity loss, a study of the individual who is adrift from their moorings or their first best destiny while ostensibly leading a more laudable and selfless existence. While Bishop is clearly sympathetic to Charlotte’s plight, there is also a tentative invitation to condemn her.

With Henry, Bishop allows us to further explore the idea of displacement. Once we’ve left somewhere, can we ever really go home? Henry’s difficulties remind me of a line from a Neil Diamond song : “LA’s fine but it ain’t home. New York’s home but it ain’t mine no more.” If we can transport items of familiarity to a new place does that make it a home? If we revisit our childhood settings after a long absence, is home still to be found in those buildings and streets, or does it exist only in our memories?

Bishop’s descriptions of the English woods, Perth’s dehydrated landscape and India’s bustling chaos, are vivid and impressive. England with its trees hung in hoarfrost, buffeting winds, rabbits and foxes lurking in the shadows, is in stark contrast with the red and yellow sand of Australia’s harsh terrain and its rampant bougainvillea and cicadas. While Mother England appears to offer no respite from continual drizzle and dampness and fog, Perth offers no relief from the scorching sun and the parched earth. India has its sweaty, rancid-smelling streets, its beggars and rogue monkeys that alight from the trees on dusk. Its charms lay in the exquisite vibrancy of the women’s Sari’s, the blue peaks of the distant Himalayas and an indigo horizon.  Where though, is sanctuary?

The portrayal of the character’s emotions is similarly evocative and moving. Charlotte feels that there is “the brightness of the outside world and the starved, dark space of her own consciousness.” While Henry believes that there is “something oddly seductive…about the prospect of giving up.” Bishop extends her poignant descriptions to Henry and Charlotte’s love-making in a way that is both sensual and majestic. There are a number of authors who could learn a thing or two from this writer’s approach to sex. She imbues the act with sensitivity without eliminating the erotic aspects.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD is the sort of book that occasionally comes along and surprises you. It is a timely reminder of the vast array of talented Australian writers whose style is not limited by geography or settings. I look forward to more offerings from Stephanie Bishop as I savour the delightful aftertaste this book has left me with.

 

4 Pops

 

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1

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