Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, On the Other Side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget, and it will have you weeping from the sheer joy and beauty of it all.
I must start by saying that I feel partly awful for writing this, especially since I didn’t even buy the book and therefore I can’t personally claim that I have wasted my own money on it. It was, instead, left behind at my house by my visiting sister-in-law, who read it and obviously decided that it wasn’t worth the valuable space in her luggage on the return journey.
Well, you know me. I love books, I am an avid reader and even though ‘romance’ is most definitely not my usual genre of reading material, there is something endearing, almost tantalising about reading a ‘free’ book, especially one so causally disregarded. I felt rather sorry for it.
So, I picked it up and studied the embossed cover, tracing over it with my fingertips, admiring it’s simplicity, I read with interest the glowing reviews and the praise on the inside of the cover from various other authors, none that I recognised, but like I said romance is not really my usual category. I read the introductory blurb on the back and then dived headfirst into the story, giving it my absolute full and undivided attention for fourteen hours.
Let me start by introducing you to some of the characters:
Evie Snow, her brother Eddie and her parents Mr and Mrs Snow
Mr and Mrs Summer and their son James
August Summer and his wife Daphne
There could even be additional ‘seasonal’ related surnames that I have momentarily forgotten but I feel that I’ve given you the general idea. I have to admit that just a few short chapters into the story and not having really enjoyed what I had read so far, in my desire to ensure that the book was read as quickly and as painlessly as possible, I did rather rattle through it, turning each page with not so much a breathy and wistful sigh, but an irritable and impatient ‘tut’ as I more than occasionally flicked to the final page, number 402, and mentally calculated how many more pages I needed to endure.
The book, as you have by now established, is littered with generic, unimaginative and frankly unbelievable character names that at the introduction of each seasonal related character name, completely undermine any possible realistic character development as from the outset they are figures that simply cannot be taken seriously, a bit like Mr Greedy, Mr Muddle, Mr Nosey or Mr Forgetful!
Or, even worse, the more appropriately romantically pun intended: Mr Perfect, Mr Wrong, and Mr Daydream.
I had to keep referring to the front cover of the book, the praise on the inside cover and the seemingly serious write up on the back to make sure that I hadn’t picked up a children’s book by mistake.
Is this perhaps teen-fiction I wonder?
Surely, this material can’t be aimed at intelligent, articulate adults?
Timeline: quite frankly there is none and whilst this might have been achieved relatively intriguingly and expertly by a more experienced and adept writer, in this scenario it amply gives the resounding impression of someone who simply couldn’t be bothered to make the effort to keep things within their relative time period or properly research it or even give a second thought to the jumbled confusion of timelines they are offering up in their storyline, though much blame has to be directed at the editor and publisher for this enormous omission.
For instance (sorry, unavoidable spoilers from hereon in):
Evie Snow dies peacefully at the age of eighty-two, the story quickly returns us to a much earlier period when she was twenty-seven and lived in her ‘happy place’, an apartment on the eighth floor (what country, what city, what era? we have zero idea).
You could be forgiven for thinking that this may be sometime in the 1930’s, 40’s or 50’s given her age at death and some of the nostalgic descriptions of ‘carpet bag shoes’, panelled corridors and polished wooden doors, but her meeting of Vincent Winters at an underground station as a busker, their fast food date of takeout burgers and chips, a casual reference to him being bisexual and wearing black skinny jeans would suggest otherwise. I realise that at this point it doesn’t wholly rule out an earlier timeline but there are two conclusive references to mobile phones in the twenty-seven year old Evie timeline. The first is in reference to a sleazy colleague of hers working his way through the female office staff as his sexual conquests and saving these young ladies in his ‘contacts list’ with contemptible nicknames that would flash up on his phone when it buzzed on his desk at which he would invariably press ‘decline’ to the call. The second is when her brother Eddie calls her at three-am one night whilst she is in her beloved apartment, there is a knock at her door, she opens it and there is Eddie, with his phone pressed to his cheek! At the very least it would have to be mid 1980’s but since mobile phones were still not advanced or particularly common even then, it is likely that it is probably just set at the time in which it was written in 2016.
Yet this is meant to be at a time that Evie was aged just twenty-seven and therefore this in turn would suggest that the eighty-two year old Evie Snow is from the year 2071, fifty-five years into the future, though this too is startlingly at odds with the various descriptions, particularly as events, objects and people become more dated and are seemingly from periods in the past rather than in the future. It’s very whimsy and twee in places and also conversely modern in others, but nevertheless, the story rushes on regardless that we haven’t been told where or when it is, which far from allowing the reader the richness of their full imagination, it limits the development of the story and makes it feel devoid of any real depth or detail.
However, as lazy as the lack of any specifics regards to era felt, I did try not to dwell too much on the completely nonsensical timeline for it is not the most irksome area of this book where the reader is required to utterly suspend belief and any sense of reality.
It continues as a somewhat generic romance with one dimensional characters with ridiculous names, a story about a girl expected to marry the very handsome and wealthy son of her wealthy parents closest friends and business partners, the Summers. James Summer (her betrothed) is in fact her very best friend, kind, thoughtful and desperately in love with Evie even though he knows his love is wholly unrequited.
At this point, we are supposed to feel endearingly sorry for poor Evie, that she doesn’t want to marry her drop-dead-gorgeous, utterly sought after, best friend James and have a perfectly easy life ahead of her without a financial care in the world, a world in which I assume she could pursue any kind of career that she wished to, especially with the love, support and financial security of a husband who absolutely adores her and would do anything to make her happy. Would this really be such a terrible existence, in the absence of none other?
Instead, like so many silver-spooned progenies, she wants to move to the ‘city’ and play at being poor (but happy, naturally!) and revel in her new found freedom, with an aim to becoming an animation artist for motion pictures and as a result, work with a gamut of misogynist creeps.
It is on this temporary adventure that she secures a low-rung job with a newspaper as their artist/cartoonist and ultimately meets poor, struggling, world-class-talented-but-not-formally-educated Vincent Winters who is ‘obviously’ dashingly handsome but not in the same perfectly formed and impeccably groomed way that James is, but in that slightly unconventional way that all ill-advised but utterly irresistible romantic leads are, groan!
Yada, yada, yada, more generic dirge of a million badly cobbled together romance novels, plus perhaps the insertion of a few very personal romantic experiences of the author given the level of detail surrounding some very specific events; namely boiled sweets and sweet wrappers.
Vincent and Evie are instantly smitten but the love-struck young pair are struggling against the might and demands of Evie’s emotionally devoid mother, Eleanor Snow, who’s character appears to have been fashioned on the eternally wicked Stepmother from Snow White or a number of other children’s fairy tales. She is solely depicted as a rather stereotypical cruel, cold, calculating and heartless character.
This really is very puerile. A rehash of so many ‘little girl’ stories, fantasies and fables it’s difficult to know what parts of it are genuinely original.
Some of the absolute worst bits:
When Evie & Vincent fall out, as they invariably do given their terribly ‘difficult’ against-all-odds predicament, they take to sending each other apologies and love notes on…..wait for it…..the wings of a white dove.
This little white dove, called Little One, seems incredibly docile and obedient, flapping off between Vincent’s flat and Evie’s apartment to carry their messages scrawled all over it’s lovely white plumage in black ink. I mean really? This is not metaphoric either, this is literal. The bird is later described as now resembling a Blackbird, so covered in ink it has become, from their incessant scribbling to each other.
I would have thought that the very idea of physically restraining a living creature so that you could graffiti it, would have been rather monstrous to most but the author obviously finds this to be a fantastically romantic gesture. So, much more whimsical, dramatic and flouncy than just using the mobile phones that were clearly and evidently available.
This symbolic nonsense, however, is sadly not limited to this one situation, there is a point at which her numerous drawings and sketches pinned up around her apartment (remember she is an aspiring animation artist) all turn to glass and splinter and fracture into a million shards when the life she desperately wants has to be forfeited instead for the life she feels she is duty bound to lead. I thought this was the ‘metaphorical’ shattering of her heart or life as she knew it, even when I read that she and James swept up all the glass fragments with a broom and hid them in a box under the floorboards in Evie’s apartment, firmly closing the chapter on her life with Vincent. That was until later in the story, when from beyond the grave Evie wills her daughter to visit the now empty apartment from fifty five years before to retrieve ‘the box’ and what her daughter recovers is an ‘actual box of broken glass’ instead of a box of dusty old drawings. I’m sure we could all have understood these themes far better if they had remained metaphorical instead of the author glibly describing them to us as some strange, jarring and frankly impossible reality.
Sadly these are still not the most dire or ridiculous of themes.
I’m saving those!
So, to cut a long (and incredibly dreadful) story short. Evie agrees to leave behind her life in the city and say goodbye to Vincent and also to marry James due to (in my opinion) a completely unnecessary requirement for her to look after her able-bodied, able-minded, adult brother simply because he wants to come out as being gay and will thus have to leave the cold, unloving and unforgiving Snow residence. For this reason and this reason alone, Evie commits to a lifelong marriage to James. They buy a house by the sea, have two children, fa-la-la-la-la and poor, perfect, doting James who has done absolutely nothing wrong, spends fifty-four years married to a woman, knowing that she doesn’t genuinely love him back and was never entirely happy, whilst Evie lives amongst the adoration of her brother and her husband for being such a true martyr.
I believe there are some contrived attempts at suspense, when the early introductions of the son, August, spell out to us all too obviously, that he too is very musically gifted, playing both the violin and the piano (we learn this on page 177 in the chapter called ‘August’) I presume this is provide to the reader the possibility that perhaps Vincent is the father, to keep us in anticipation, wondering who it was that Evie finally married, was it James Summer, was it Vincent Winters?
Oooooh, if only I could give even half a crap!
Perhaps we were even to continue to consider the possibility that the son was Vincent’s, long after it was confirmed to us on page 259 that Jim (James Summer) was indeed Evie’s husband and also ‘Dad’ to August and Isla. Though with August arriving two years after their marriage, I daresay it was not the implicit intention of the author to taint Saint Evie with any suggestion that something untoward had occurred.
In fact, the romance is all rather chaste, no steamy sex scenes, very moderate language, so the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is indeed teen-fiction masquerading as a more mature novel.
Oh well, I’ve started now and I’m just getting to a bit that thoroughly annoyed me, though there were indeed many infuriating parts, so I’m jolly well going to continue in my ‘appraisal’ and if it ends up that as a forty-seven year old woman, I am trashing a teen-romance novel, then perhaps somebody in the industry will have the future sense to put ‘age appropriate’ suggestions on the front covers of teen-fiction so that intelligent adults, like myself, don’t inadvertently end up reading this drivel .
Where was I? Oh, yes, one of the biggest eye rolls of them all…..
It is now the day of the actual wedding and I have by this point assessed Evie to be a rather selfish, shallow and somewhat inane creature, despite the authors various attempts to paint her as quite the opposite.
As such on her wedding day and just minutes before the wedding ceremony that has naturally been lavishly organised by the rather severe and icy Mrs Snow, Evie relays a message, via her brother Eddie, to James to delay the proceedings for fifteen minutes and whilst she does not give her reasons for doing so, he dutifully obeys.
In the meantime she skips off to attend to this rather last minute issue. Knowing that she cannot give her heart to Vincent but also that she truly can’t give it to James (despite that he is adorable and her best friend and they are about to get married which she fully agreed to, and that she hasn’t even considered for one moment that a true and deep love might grow where purely friendship once existed) she…..wait for it….sneaks off to the garden in her family home, dressed in her full, enormous, white Cinderella wedding dress, veil, bridal shoes the whole attire, digs a hole in the cold, icy, November/December soil with the help of nothing more than a twig from the hedge…… opens her ribcage…….yes you read that correctly……. retrieves her shiny red beating heart and buries it in the garden, telling her heart/herself that if she cannot give it to the man that she truly loves, then she will give it to no-one.
Just take a moment there……
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a vampire/zombie-bride/Romeo and Juliet suicide-pact story as much as the next person but again, could this not have remained metaphorical?
The logistics of it are just far too implausible and the stickler/neat-freak in me is genuinely having the hardest time trying to imagine doing all of this in a great big, full-skirted wedding dress. I found it difficult enough just pulling my own knickers down to go for a wee whilst dressed in my very own wedding meringue and had to eventually enlist the help of my best friend!
So now, at this point, where I presume we should all be marvelling at how wonderful and romantic and symbolic this was, I’m just sat thinking “well, how does THAT work?” Never mind the pints and pints of blood or the fact that she should, by rights, have dropped down dead, I’m worried about the grass stains on her wedding shoes, whether her hair is in a right old mess after all that running and digging and pulling out out of hearts and has she been a dope and absent-mindedly wiped her hands down her dress and got mud and blood and rankness all over it?
But, No! Remarkably, none of the above. At this stage, without a beating heart in her body and despite her badly timed and inappropriately attired gardening escapades and self-conducted open heart surgery seemingly having had no ill effects on her full wedding regalia she simply, purposefully strides back to the ‘wedding’ venue and promptly marries the ever grateful, ever thoughtful, ever patient and ever understanding James.
Which leaves me to draw the quite obvious conclusion, that far from being wonderfully kind, she is indeed utterly heartless.
I realise that I could have simply stopped reading but at this point I was already at page 324, with only another 78 pages to go.
Might as well finish it, surely it can’t get any worse!
Realistically, I could go on and on and on about how trite, clichéd, banal and ludicrous the numerous other elements of this story are but it really does have to be read in it’s entirety to fully appreciate just how compellingly awful this book is.
I won’t even start on ‘The Wall’ or ‘The Good Tree’. I’ll leave those preposterous ‘gems’ for you to discover for yourselves, because quite frankly, just like the author in so many cases, I simply can’t be bothered to describe them adequately to you; I’ll merely suggest them with the briefest of introductions and instead you can use your imagination to fill in the gargantuan blanks and if that fails, you can simply call on some well know fairy tale predictability to see you through.
I’m sure the author, in her clear excess of enthusiasm for her own capability and talent, thought she was doing a marvellous job of creating these wonderfully exuberant characters for us to champion and her attempts at being all inclusive, with a bi-sexual lover, a gay brother and a hastily penned pansexual character that is suddenly dropped in there as a crowd pleaser; Isla, the ‘Snow residence’ housekeeper, is somewhat forcibly injected into the story in what feels like the minimalist detail possible, as the then confidante of a sixteen year old Evie, yet another timeline oddity that rankles any natural flow of this clumsy story and my feelings are that it is purely to adopt the pansexual identity. I thought it all smacked rather too much of desperation of the author attempting to gratify her current extensive fan base as a thoroughly modern YouTube personality and celebrity.
Personally I thoroughly disliked Evie, I couldn’t find one redeeming quality about her and she is farthest from the idea of the virtuous and aspirational heroine that I think the author was desperately trying to promote to the reader. At the time of her death, her ‘children’ in the book are aged fifty-two and forty-seven but behave in the most juvenile way, there is a good deal of tongue poking at each other and chasing each other around the family home, as they share various disagreements whilst they decide how best to fathom the normally difficult situation of handling dear recently departed mothers possessions and supporting their bereft father in the process. It makes them come across as total imbeciles and no amount of the author detailing their various attributes, talents and achievements can take away from the feeling that they were originally penned as ‘children’ despite being introduced to the story at the point of being middle aged adults!
It’s genuinely difficult to feel anything for Vincent since aside his immense implied skills as a violinist, his penchant for orange flavoured boiled sweets and his dishevelled but utterly adorable (apparently) good looks, he is a very one dimensional character who was completely forgettable until, that is, that he predictably pops back up at the very end of the story, right on cue…ta da! The only character I felt a modicum of empathy and warmth for was the besotted and loyal husband James and she barely paid him any attention or details in the story, except to say they remained married for fifty-four years.
He was most definitely only ever the supporting cast in every way imaginable, popping up conveniently to do a chivalrous deed or to bolster her ego and finally to lament her passing in the most idolising fashion.
I realise that the author is still quite young, twenty-six in fact and just twenty-three at the time of writing this novel, Maybe a number of elements of the younger Evie are modelled on the author herself, perhaps the dashing and dishevelled Vincent is based on a real life partner and possibly the older Evie is modelled on the authors Grandmother or another such homely figure?
That would certainly answer the glaring question as to why there are so many problems in the timeline and the fact that the younger Evie and her beau of choice seem far more current than the Evie and the subsequent characters of fifty-five years later!
I realise that for some fictional writers, it can be very difficult to write about things that they have not personally experienced which can be problematic when attempting to create the necessary details and depth to a story. I’m obviously not talking about having personally experienced removing ones heart and burying it in a garden or dying at the age of eighty-two.
Having a vivid imagination can truly be a wonderful thing (as J.K.Rowling has richly and adeptly demonstrated) but the ability to tell a story and make it both vivid but also relatable to the reader requires more than just imagination and sadly these rather vital and very necessary other elements were severely lacking in this attempt at a fictional novel.
I was simply left feeling that this book was incredibly immature, intensely shallow, considerably vain on the part of the author and extremely poorly written and was certainly not the great romantic or magical fiction it is dubbed to be.
“Spellbinding” More like completely absurd.
“A magical treat” Yes, if you liken it to the poisoned apple in Snow White.
“A heartwarming love story laced with magical realism” I’m really not sure what opiates you would need to be indulging in, to coin this as “magical realism”.
In short, and I don’t feel that I have particularly disguised my feelings up to this point, I intensely disliked this novel. For me, it is by far, the worst book I have read. In fact, if a dog were to be left, unmonitored in the reading corner of a public library and decided to idly chew up a random selection of mediocre romance novels before retching and heaving and ultimately throwing up the contents of it’s stomach, it could quite probably and purely by accident, present a more articulate intelligible and likeable piece of reading than ‘On the Other Side’.
I have, however, created a handful of potential new readers who are now vying to read it purely on the basis of my less than flowery review and observations, though clearly this is not an edict.
Just one woman’s humble opinion.
I daresay, my now ‘personalised’ copy will be on permanent loan to a host of avid readers for the foreseeable future.
I would, however, still like to thoroughly congratulate Carrie Hope Fletcher on churning out a novel of rather inept proportions yet still managing to achieve a ‘number one best seller’. It really is an extraordinary achievement and it seems she is quite the successful entrepreneur and celebrity. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that there are many more literary creations far more deserving of publication and accolade.
Evie Snow: “No, I won’t be hopeless. I am full of hope. I’m a Hopeful”
Carrie Hope Fletcher, On The Other Side
If I had to live on a literary diet of low-calorie, zero-carb crap like this and by that I mean ‘no real substance to it’, I for one would not be ‘hopeful’.
Maybe I’ve found my new forté.
I could become the Nina Myskow of book reviewers.
Instead of “The Bitch on the box”, I could be the “The Bitch on the books”
Please note that all of the above are merely my opinions, they are not facts, they are not excerpts of the original works, there are no libelous intentions or suggestions of plagiarism where I have drawn parallels with other works of fiction and my observations are all entirely without prejudice.
Reminder: Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, On the Other Side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget, and it will have you weeping from the sheer joy and beauty of it all.
It will certainly be a long time before I forget On the Other Side but I was far from weeping from the joy and beauty of it all, I was merely rejoicing the fact that it was finished.
The only ‘magical’ thing about this book for me, is that it somehow managed to compel me keep reading it, long after I desperately wanted to stop.
The Virtual Recluse