Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Book Review | The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Kelly walks through a door on her twenty-ninth birthday and finds herself in another life. A moderately-successful Chicago-based artist, she suddenly finds herself married and living the suburbs. The problem is, she has all the memories of both lives coalescing in her mind, and no idea about how she got there.

‘The possibility of my entire history ceasing to exist, of it never having existed, induces a dreamlike horror that stops up my throat. I can’t speak.’

She remembers, for example, that she loves her husband, Eric. She knows the name of her nieces and nephews that do not exist in her ‘real’ life. She knows the contents of all the cupboards in her suburban kitchen. But at the same time, she has the memories of her Chicago life – her best friend, Linnea. Her cat and roommates. Her beloved art studio. Experiencing, understandably, a profound sense of disorientation, she bolts to Chicago when Eric has gone to work, desperate to retrace her steps and find any traces of the life that was once hers. It’s a slow burn mystery, and I was intrigued to see how it would play out within the confines of the genre.

‘What I’m searching for is some emotional connection to the life I find myself living. But even with my entire history laid out in front of me, I’m unable to feel that it’s mine.’

The narrative gets even more interesting when the two timelines appear to begin to bleed into one another – Kelly’s tattoos begin to appear on her arms, before fading immediately. Photos disappear and reappear on the walls. And there’s a general unease about Eric, too. He seems almost too perfect – and those of us acquainted with a thriller know that can only mean one thing.

It’s a great concept, and compelling reading for the first 60% or so. I haven’t read anything with this premise, so to me, at least, it felt like a refreshing take on a manipulative relationship. My main problem was that it was sort of sci-fi, sort of thriller – without accomplishing either entirely effectively. Taking on a sci-fi concept, like this, requires real finesse. I’ve never read anything that falls into the science-fiction without the science category (though if this is a well-established genre, I stand corrected!) and to me the light-touch on how the time travel actually worked just left too many plot holes for me to truly buy in to the concept.

This may not be a deal breaker for other readers, and this book certainly had its merits. I just wish there was a little more of an investment in the details for the world-building and central premise to be fully and effectively executed.

With thanks to Berkley Books for the advanced copy. The Other Me will be published on August 10th, 2021.

Happy Publication Day | Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Happy publication day to Ghosts by Dolly Alderton, a charming, funny and heartfelt piece of contemporary fiction. I read and reviewed this back in July, and my full review is here!

Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.

P.S.

Please buy from a bookshop who pays their taxes! Blackwells have free delivery in the UK and US, and Bookshop means you can shop online from your local bookshops – currently available in the US and coming soon to the UK! (Not to get on a soapbox, but please don’t buy books from Amazon. If you need any convincing, have a read of this).

Book Review | Thin Girls by Diana Clarke

Trigger warning: eating disorders, abuse

Lily and Rose are identical twins. Until they’re not. Rose has always been the quieter twin, at home with their oneness, determined they be joined at the hip. They existed, Rose reflects, ‘on our own frequency, a station between channels that sounded like nothing more than raw static to others.’

Up to their early teenage years, the only thing that sets the two apart from each other is a small mole on Lily’s torso. But when they turn fourteen, Rose, desperate to ingratiate herself with the popular clique and win the affection of its ring leader, Jemima, begins to starve herself. And the less Rose consumes, the more Lily fills in the gaps.

‘She fed herself because I wouldn’t. We were an hourglass. Emptying the contents of one side only filled the other.’

There is an almost surreal quality to the next part of Rose’s life: a hazy rawness that emulates her slipping in and out of consciousness as her body hangs on by a thread – in Rose’s case, a tic-tac on the hour, and nothing else. Flitting between the past and the present, chronicling Rose’s teenagerhood with Lily and subsequent anorexia, we witness the collapse of their once-inseparable bond in the 2000s coupled with present-day Rose in an eating disorder facility.

I thought I could predict where this story was taking me, but I was impressed by the incredibly nuanced and delicate way the narrative is told. Clarke deftly explores the complex psychology behind Rose’s eating disorder, and the extreme psychological and physical harm this illness inflicts on its victims. There is no glamorisation of anorexia here – it is explored in graphic and unflinching detail. At one point, Rose’s teeth deteriorate – she becomes too worried about calories in toothpaste. Her lips are permanently chapped, lest she ingest some of the nutritional content of chapstick. Rose is unwaveringly honest – she knows her emaciated body is not conventionally ‘attractive’ – but that isn’t the point.

‘I wanted to see what wasn’t there anymore. I wanted to see how much of me had been erased. I wanted to see how little of me remained.’

The story is told with startling insight and skill, the narrative flitting between past and present, interspersed with vignettes of information that Rose has burned into her brain. She consumes knowledge in the equal and opposite way in which she is unable to consume food.

‘In the 1930s, a dieting trend emerged in the media. Slimming soaps, which professed to wash away extra weight by simply working up a lather in the shower. See all those women, in the midst of the depression, still desperately scouring their skin, scrubbing themselves skinny.’

Even more surprisingly, this is, in its own complex way, a queer love story, and a startling exploration of denying your sexuality and wreaking havoc on your body. ‘We think we can exorcise desire by famine,’ Rose reflects. Reconciling this part of her identity is essential for any chance at recovery.

Not everything works perfectly – the ornate passages Rose reads about her sister Lily’s trauma felt a little jarring in the context of the book, and some of the metaphors were a little overstretched – but this is overall an impressive, intense and gripping portrait of young womanhood, obsession, illness, desire, and hope.

****.25

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With thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy. Thin Girls will be published on 30th June 2020.