Summary and book reviews of The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

The Other Side of the World

by Stephanie Bishop

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the tradition of The Hours and Revolutionary Road comes a novel set in the 1960s about marriage, motherhood, identity, nostalgia, and the fantasy of home.

The only thing harder than losing home is trying to find it again.

Cambridge, 1963. Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, cannot face the thought of another English winter. A brochure slipped through the mailbox gives him the answer: "Australia brings out the best in you."

Charlotte is too worn out to resist, and before she knows it they are travelling to the other side of the world. But upon their arrival in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on the couple and slowly reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte barely recognizes herself in this place where she is no longer a promising young artist, but instead a lonely housewife, venturing into the murky waters of infidelity. Henry, an Anglo-Indian, is slowly ostracized at the university where he teaches poetry. Subtle at first, it soon invades his entire sense of identity.

Trapped by nostalgia, Charlotte and Henry are both left wondering if there is anywhere in this world they truly belong. Which of them will make the attempt to find out? Who will succeed?

Prologue

Cambridge 1966

She would have walked, only Henry said no. The footpaths are treacherous, he told her, and I don't want you slipping and injuring yourself when I've just found you alive and well. The snow has come early and the cold is fierce. No, he said, I'll come and collect you and bring you back here, to the hotel near the river. There wasn't room for them all in his apartment and Charlotte didn't want the college knowing of their situation, so Henry had booked rooms at the Royal. He'll be driving past the river now, she thinks, checking her watch. Her husband, ever punctual. The water a dark stripe in the corner of his vision. He'll see it as he drives straight ahead, lose it as he turns left, then right. On the river there will be rowboats—the faint sound of blades smacking and cutting at the water, the creak of hull and oarlock, the call of boys.

Charlotte opens the window and pushes her face into the cold. Outside, the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "Is it easier to love a child, she wonders, than it is to love a wife?" (pg. 150) How do you think Henry and Charlotte's relationship has been changed by the arrival of children? How might Charlotte's sense of failure as a mother have affected her relationship with Henry?
  2. Henry's ethnicity is never discussed directly between the couple. Why do you think this is? Do you think Charlotte has any understanding of Henry's experience as an Anglo-Indian in England, and then in Australia?
  3. The novel opens with the epigraph, "Nostalgia . . . is a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed." (Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia). Whether as migrants or just looking back over our lives, how clearly do we see past...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The omniscient narration includes a lot of reportage, descriptions, psychoanalyzing and rhetorical questions, which together take up some of the space that in other novels would be given over to dialogue and scenes. This means the book can at times feel a little bit dreamy and ungrounded. Ultimately I think that is Bishop's goal, though: to make readers experience the uprooted life along with her characters.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review Members Only (686 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Full of excellent prose, especially in descriptions of landscapes, this story leaves its characters and readers wondering what is at the root of identity and nostalgia, and what a sense of home really means.

Booklist

In this story of the mid-1960s, readers can appreciate the glimpses of immigrant experiences across the ages: the leap of faith into the unknown, the quelling reality that couples don't settle in along the same trajectory, the dawning realization that where you're "originally" from always matters, and the faltering promise of the return home

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An artfully rendered meditation on marriage, home, and identity.

The Guardian (UK)

An insightful, exquisitely observed novel. Bishop is a talented and intelligent storyteller with a masterful command of language, and The Other Side of the World deserves to make many a book prize shortlist.

The Australian (Australia)

The story of Charlotte and Henry – the melancholy beauty of its prose and the sharpness of its insights into nostalgia and belonging – has stayed with me for weeks now.

West Australian Magazine (Australia)

Anyone who has ever been a stranger in a strange land — geographically, culturally, physically or emotionally — will find in The Other Side of the World a map of oneiric bittersweetness. And anyone who has longed for that which can never be again or perhaps never really was will find in Bishop that rare thing: a true artist of memory.

Australian Book Review

As Bishop develops the tensions in her beautifully observed and deeply poignant novel, it is not just a question of sorting out where these people should live. The whole delicate fabric of marriage and parenthood, of identity and duty, even love itself, is at risk ... It is luminous.

Canberra Weekly (Australia)

An unputdownable evocative tale of nostalgia, belonging and motherhood delivered with superb poetic grace...Bishop's acute insights into belonging and identity strongly echo the work of Virginia Woolf, and culminate in an ending you won't see coming.

Author Blurb Carys Bray, author of A Song for Issy Bradley
There are moments in this novel that are so beautifully and painfully evoked ... I thought about it for days afterwards.

Author Blurb Hannah Beckerman, author of The Dead Wife's Handbook
Perceptive, wise, and exquisitely written, this novel had me turning the pages with heart-stopping urgency. I could not have loved it more.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Immigration to Australia

Author Stephanie Bishop's maternal grandparents left England for Australia in 1965. Her grandmother was reluctant to make the move and never truly warmed to the country. Their experience forms the basis of The Other Side of the World. (Bishop's Guardian article gives the whole story.)

Beginning in the latter decades of the eighteenth century, Australia was the destination of boatloads of British criminals. This influx of free convict labor handily coincided with Britain's colonization of Australia, beginning with its east coast. (For more details, see the Beyond the Book article for Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant.) The 1940s through early 1960s also saw a huge increase in immigration to Australia. In part this was because the country ...

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