Steady lights flickered across her closed eyelids, and in her ears she could hear the rhythmic hum and rattle of a train on its tracks.
They say you should never meet your heroes and as a huge admirer of Carrie Hope Fletcher, the quintessential role model for tweens, teens and this 20-something, I had been putting off reading her first foray into fiction for this very reason. And yet I bought a copy, a gorgeous purple-edged copy, and I eventually dared to read beyond the blurb in the hope that I would love On the Other Side as much as I love the author. There are some spoilers in this review so please be warned.
Evie Snow has lived a long and complicated life. At the age of 82, she passes away surrounded by her loving family but when she reaches the other side, she realises that in order to move forward, she has to look back and face what she has been desperately trying to forget…
Now this is a difficult review for me to write because whilst I did enjoy the unique magical realism of the story and the immersive feel of Carrie’s writing, I was immediately distracted by the choice of the author to write herself as the lead Evie Snow and her boyfriend-at-the-time, Pete Bucknall, as the romantic lead Vincent Winters. I know you should write what you know and that art imitates life but this obvious mirroring seemed unimaginative and a little narcissistic – two qualities I would never associate with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I hasten to add. I loved the little nod to her fan base that she includes within the story and didn’t even mind the obvious declaration of love to Pete in the lift graffiti (“CB luvs PF”) but having the two leads directly correlate to real life – from personality to physical characteristics – was just too much, even for this fangirl.
The lack of setting or time period is also where this book feels very confused. Fletcher creates a 1940s-style world where parents control their children with the threat of disinheritance and male bosses can freely sexually harass female employees without consequence and yet it is also a world modern enough to have skinny jeans, mobile phones and to openly accept all sexual preferences within society. There is the feeling that if On the Other Side is progressive enough to have openly bi-, pan- or homosexual characters, why is it still a world where parents can dictate who you marry and why isn’t Evie Snow strong enough to stand up for her own rights as much as she stands up for her brothers?
On the Other Side is riddled with wholesomeness and a continued feel of good-bad, right-wrong throughout, with characters being placed deliberately on one side of this stringent fence. This not only felt a little unrealistic but it also meant that by the end, I just couldn’t champion or support Evie. As someone who initially appears to be making choices to support a strong and independent woman, I couldn’t understand some of her later decisions and the fact she was making all these amends to her family by travelling back to the other side before raising the ultimate two fingers up at Jim was heart-breaking – I loved Jim!
To end on a positive, there are promising hints of authorship within On the Other Side. Fletcher’s style and tone of writing is engaging and she creates some really interesting ideas, balancing the fantastical with the ordinary with ease. It just needed a bit more time to develop and a historical context, along with a stronger editorial direction, would have lifted this book considerably. Even just a little more research would have given On the Other Side more authority and provided the well-written magical realism a springboard from which to jump. As it stands, it falls a little flat.