After a long rest from reviewing; lots going on, not really reading anything earth shattering etc, I could not avoid putting thoughts down about The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers.
It’s not her most recent book, that being The Cleaner of Chartres which I read last year and enjoyed. The Other Side also features a male doctor, this time a British psychiatrist called David. One of the strengths of this book is that he is seen to have other patients apart from the main subject, Elizabeth Cruikshank. These other patients are challenging in their own ways, particularly when he finds everything else is changing for him. It is the attempted suicide and subsequent admission of Elizabeth to hospital which means that they meet and talk for an amazing seven hours, in which much is revealed to both speaker and listener.
This book had been chosen by our book club, and I must admit that I was not initially attracted by the subject matter. The first chapter did not help; with references to the Holocaust and the death of the narrator’s brother in a childhood accident. I did continue reading and I am glad I did. Against the background of the narrator, David’s, unsatisfactory marriage, we begin to discover that Elizabeth in her own words, was ‘faithless’. This is not a simple matter of an extra marital affair, however. It begins to emerge that Elizabeth’s story is one of true connections made then lost, of a fascinating man who enters her life, shows her a new way of living. It is a matter of faith in another human, and the colourless life that it is possible to live.
The drama of Elizabeth’s life is gradually revealed over one long session, but David is not an impassive listener. As she talks, and there are small interruptions, he realises things about himself and the small objects he keeps in his office. The change and release that comes is dramatic, with implications for other people.
Without revealing everything about the book, it is difficult to describe its impact. I enjoyed the other characters, especially the whisky (and chocolate) loving Gus. He also introduces one of the other themes of the book, the paintings of Caravaggio. I am certainly no expert on these, and gazed at the picture reproduced on the inside cover. The other pictures are viewable online, and help explain some of the narrative. It is the reaction on the part of the characters to the pictures which is significant to the story. The title, from Eliot’s Waste Land, is also important as people’s ‘other side’ is revealed.
This is not a flawless book. (is there such a thing?). There are times when it is frustrating, when the actions of the main characters are just wrong. It is also scattered with pronouncements from characters, which are profound, but not really in the right place. There are a few places where the mundane gets a bit heavy going.
This is a good book, a good read, and ultimately an uplifting story. Our book club found a lot to discuss, and it is worth tracking down a copy.