Monday, July 6, 2015

Stephanie Bishop's unnerving The Other Side of the World

This book has come with enthusiastic recommendations from many critics and booksellers I deeply respect. Martin Shaw from Readings, a very discriminating reader, proclaimed: '...without  question one the finest Australian novels of 2015'.

I had to read it, despite the cover, once again, turning me off. (Down Under, get it?) 

The book is powerful, no doubt about that. The power kicks in about two thirds of the way through and then is relentless. It's confronting and asks far more questions than it answers. It's a domestic drama about marriage, children and especially motherhood. And a profound and uncomfortable depression. 

The problem I had with the book was the author's obsession with describing in micro detail the natural environment in which the characters move - in rural England, in suburban Australia, and in provincial India. The narrative is frequently buried in long and poetic descriptions of the ordinary goings on in the physical world - birds, trees, winds, breezes, flowers, seasons, rivers, insects, rocks, moths, spiders, weevils, beetles, mosquitoes, etc, ad nauseum.  

There isn't a paragraph, no matter how short, that doesn't digress into description. The writing is sublime, the phrasing poetic, there's not a word out of place or a cliche anywhere. But how much more of this Boys Own Guide to the Natural World am I meant to bare? Frankly, it verges on the tedious.

But in the end, because of the overwhelming power of the story, the book is a triumph. 

So persevere with this, enjoy the writing, and be deeply moved and emotionally shaken by the drama.

No comments:

Post a Comment