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July book club - The Other Side of the World

(67 Posts)
Grannyjacq1 Fri 01-Jul-16 13:50:07

My copy of the July bookclub novel has just landed on my door mat - thank you! Can't wait to start reading it (will have to put 'Wolf Hall' on hold for a week or two - which won't be too difficult). I am particularly interested in Stephanie Bishop's novel as my sister moved to Australia over 30 years ago.

oznan Mon 11-Jul-16 13:45:41

Thank you for the book.This novel is beautifully written but sadly the descriptive tone was at the expense of any meaningful dialogue.Charlotte and Henry seem to be a couple whose love for each other does not include any serious discussions about their family and future,their feelings and hopes.Charlotte seems to be either depressed or totally non-maternal.Were the children wanted or planned?I really disliked the parts where the children were described as "it."
It was hard to find any sympathy or liking for either of the main characters.
I would like to ask Stephanie Bishop why she chose the theme of what home might mean to people-does she think that Charlotte and Henry's story would have been any different if they had stayed in England?

Greenfinch Mon 11-Jul-16 14:10:33

I am finding this book so sad as I realise how my mother must have felt on the £10 scheme and why she wanted to come home after two years .She must have felt very lonely with only me as a toddler for any company while my father was working long hours. She used to talk of long walks along the river which ran at the bottom of our garden. She talked of snakes in the undergrowth and possums weeing and thumping on the roof. Then there was the intense heat which made me ill. What an unhappy two years for her but at least she could afford to return home. I am only half way through the book so I don't know what will happen to Charlotte but I can sympathise with her all the way.

grandMattie Mon 11-Jul-16 15:45:23

Just finished the book. DH spent a lot of his career moving over the UK. I'm an 'immigrant' so felt a kindred spirit to Charlotte when she arrived in Oz, with her husband working and having no-one to talk to.

I found it a very sad book; sad for Charlotte who was obviously depressed both post-natally, then generally; sad for her for her sense of dislocation when she reached Oz; sad that the couple hadn't really discussed the move, just told each other how tings would be; sad that Henry felt a stranger both 'home' and in India; sad for all the other reasons mentioned in the various posts.

Poor Charlotte took herself back to the UK, to her old haunts, her sense of returning home didn't work either - once a mother always a mother. Takes someone either very strong or with no maternal sense to leave her children.

Henry found going back to India not much easier - although it was for different reasons. He never fitted anywhere anyway.

Homesickness to the degree Charlotte felt it is a disease
rather than just a bit of nostalgia, harking back to the "good old" whatever it is one misses a little.

My heart bled for all of them and there was no way I felt I could have helped them, or put their situation right. Those poor little girls...

grandMattie Mon 11-Jul-16 15:46:36

PS I agree with oznan that there was too much "prose" and not enough speech/actual conversation. It was very much in both their heads, and emotions.

Lowslung1 Tue 12-Jul-16 11:21:51

Thank you for my copy - I thought I was going to love it as it seemed very much my kind of book, but although I thought it was OK, it was a bit dull, I suppose.
Long descriptive passages were fine in their way, but I would have preferred a little more interraction between characters - more "local people" involved. I thought both Charlotte and Henry were a bit half soaked - obviously Charlotte wasn't willing to make much effort with their new life, and Henry was just downright selfish.
Even on their return to England they don't seem to be getting things sorted any better - but would it have made a difference if they had never made the trip to Australia anyway?

mrsrwalsh Tue 12-Jul-16 11:24:27

I have received a copy of The Other Side of the World and I'm looking forward to reading it.
What a generous lot you are. Thank you.

jammy388 Tue 12-Jul-16 18:10:46

The characters (as well as the settings) were so well-drawn that I found myself being pulled into their world - feeling both sad and helpless, so parts of the book had a nightmarish quality for me. The lack of understanding and communication between husband and wife was frustrating too. All in all I was relieved to get to the end despite the fascinating ideas about home and identity.

Nandalot Wed 13-Jul-16 13:45:37

A lot of links in this novel with my own family background. I was born in India, my mother,born in India, had Anglo-Indian roots, my father was British, out on contract when he met mum. We 'returned' to England in 1953, not intentionally, my father died whilst we were visiting relatives over here so we never went back. My mother was bereaved and uprooted all in one blow. Also my sister and her family were £10 poems, emigrating in the 60's and living in Australia for seven years. Perhaps my roots meant I could empathise more with Henry than with Charlotte. I felt for him as he was subtly or not so subtly undermined at the university whereas with Charlotte I was angry that she could not see any merit in the landscape of Australia and that the place seemed more important to her than her children. Moreover, it was bad enough that she abandoned them in the first place, but as she says unforgivable to do it again. That was completely beyond my comprehension. I found the descriptions of the Cambridgeshire landscape evocative and detailed and resonated with the pictorial world of Charlotte. However, I found the book slow and over laboured. The theme of rootlessness was overplayed and over signposted, I prefer it when a novel's a ideas permeate the consciousness more subtly.

Fran9 Wed 13-Jul-16 21:53:35

Thank you for my copy The other side of the world, will take on my holiday, looking forward to reading it.

dmET70 Thu 14-Jul-16 15:22:47

Thank you for the book. It was not, I have to say my kind of book although I was keen to read it through to the end to see what happened. I cannot understand why or how this couple avoided discussing there feelings and the final straw for me was her selfishness in just going and leaving her children without any explaination. It was also a little over descriptive for me as I do like to read about surroundings but some of this was very fanciful. I will pass it on to my daughter-in-law as she may have a different take on it being younger

weather Fri 15-Jul-16 18:01:51

Just finished reading this book ...very different, interesting as I knew people who went out on this package. What I couldn't understand was the ending I have read the ending 3 times but still can't work out what it should be. I too found it was overly descriptive, depressing and hard going at times.

obag Sat 16-Jul-16 10:23:17

Thanks for my copy this book is beautifully written, the descriptions of family life in the 1060s cover all aspects, relationships,race,ambition and the upheaval of a move to a foreign country.
I enjoyed the book so much and passed it on to DD.

rocketstop Sat 16-Jul-16 10:50:04

I have finished this book and although I really really hate to say it..I didn't enjoy it. I thought it became too wordy, lost in description and didn't have enough substance. I kept expecting the characters were going to develop, something was going to happen, or I would want to empathise with a character. It just didn't happen for me, I got to the end of the book and felt like I had wasted my time. Maybe it would have been better as a short story? It really goes against the grain for me to criticize a book because an author always deserves praise for being brave enough to put a story out there.

myk Sat 16-Jul-16 11:12:47

I was somewhat confused after finishing this novel. I was expecting there to be a look at the issue of migration, not feeling 'at home' (what is home in the first place?), the alienation that accompanies a move to another country, culture, with the expectation that things would be the same but dealing with the reality that often they are not, with a look at the awful expression of 'roots' – as if people are trees.

There was a bit of that but I didn't feel the issues were explored in the way that it became meaningful.

Charlotte doesn't want to become a 'Ten Pound Pom' and head off to the other side of the world to make a new life in Australia but we don't know exactly why. The closest explanation I could find was that she liked to experience the cold of winter in the Cambridgeshire Fens. That may be the case but it's a flimsy reason, especially when she lives with her husband and very young daughter in a hell hole of a (tiny) cottage, which makes then all ill, and when there's another child on the way. (But, then, weren't all houses cold in the early 1960s in Britain?)

Henry is of mixed Indian and British heritage. He encounters racism (to his surprise) when he eventually goes to the college where he is to teach but I don't see how he was surprised. Surely he would have encountered those racist attitudes on the long journey out on the boat? Those who left Britain in the 1950s and 60s weren't necessarily the most progressive of the British working class, especially demonstrated in their defence of the racist regimes of (Southern) Rhodesia and South Africa a generation later. Even, to this day, Australia is far from being an all-inclusive society.

And Henry's return to India is an extremely unsatisfying episode and doesn't make sense.

If the issues of homesickness and racism aren't dealt with adequately neither is the other issue that seems to be the most important condition that effects Charlotte, her attitude to moving to Australia and the relationship she has with her husband and all those around her – that being she is a terrible mother.

Bishop obviously considers this pivotal as she bookends her novel with this matter but that doesn't mean it's adequately explored in the body of the novel. When only with one child she does what she wants, even at the expense of the health of the little girl. Now this can possibly be put down to post natal depression but that term isn't even hinted at – did the term even exist in the mid 1960s? Later on she just wanders off in her own dreamlike world, leaving her two little girls in dangerous circumstances and doesn't even seem to realise what she has done. At times she shows affection, but even in those circumstances I thought her cold and distant. And the time she totally loses it with her eldest daughter would have her arrested nowadays.

And let's not mention the dreams. Do people actually remember, in such detail, dreams that are so complicated and which presage the future?

I really found this such a disturbing read on so many levels.

Grannyjacq1 Sun 17-Jul-16 08:48:26

In many ways it was quite a relief to finish reading this novel as the tone of it was so dark with little to relieve the unrelenting gloom. Having said that, I thought that some of the descriptive details were superb, evocative of both the dreary Cambridge Fens landscape and the intense Australian heat and reflected Charlotte's artistic talents. I also enjoyed the section set in India when Henry returns to see his dying mother and begins to realise how important his family is in his life - possibly for the first time.
I agree with the previous gransnet reviewer who thought that Charlotte was suffering from post-natal depression (which still existed, even if it didn't necessarily have a 'label' in the 1960s, - gransnet reviewer Myk.) I felt very sorry for her, cut off from everything she knew in Australia, and I'm sure her feelings of isolation would be shared by so many in this situation - which can occur in a busy town in England just as easily as in a remote place on the other side of the world. Her powerlessness and despair are tangible. As for Henry - he seemed rather an enigmatic character, with his mixed-race background seeming to contribute to his uncertainty about life and his relationships with his wife and mother. I thought the way he was treated by his colleagues in Australia - because of his mixed race - was very disturbing. I didn't really warm to either of the main characters, who were clearly victims of their circumstances; I wanted to like them, but I couldn't - I just felt immensely sorry for them. And I thought that the ending was particularly unsatisying.
I found the section at the end about the 'ten pound poms' was extremely interesting, and would like to read other novels which use this period in history as a backdrop to their novels. I would also like to read another novel by Stephanie Bishop as I feel she is a talented writer, with great potential.

gma Sun 17-Jul-16 09:25:03

Finished reading Other Side of the World! Thank goodness !!
Like many other gransnetters I too found it very depressing. Poor Lucy, obviously suffering from post natal depression , and living in the fens that's understandable ! We seem to forget that communication with Australia and India is so easy now, but in the early 60s we had to book a call to Australia and the the line was so bad.
I expected so much more , although the descriptive passages were good, the dialogue was stilted and laboured. Sorry gransnet, not for me I'm afraid.

tiggers Sun 17-Jul-16 17:48:49

A belated thank you GN for my copy of The Other Side of the World. Found it waiting for me on our return from holiday. Have just finished the book I was reading so will now begin reading this one.

Rosannie Sun 17-Jul-16 19:49:10

I've just finished The Other Side of the World and whilst I agree it wasn't entertaining, I did enjoy the book.
The time period, the settings and the emotional turmoil of Charlotte were well drawn and the writing was beautiful. Henry was very much a flawed character and whilst Charlotte would probably have been despised for the abandonment of her family, he was a major cause of the unhappy situation. Thank you for the opportunity to read such an insightful novel.

Greenfinch Mon 18-Jul-16 08:25:44

I really enjoyed this book probably because of my experience in Australia in the forties as the child of two £10 POMS .My mother was desperately unhappy in Sydney but unlike Charlotte she had the support of her sister who had married an Australian. My memories are dim but I do remember the unpleasantness of many of the rather rough Australian men and boys in contrast to my own gentle and kind British Father. Charlotte did not seem to meet any of those characters possibly because she went a couple of decades later. I can really feel for her and the loneliness she felt in this huge country and to me she seemed an incapable rather than a bad mother. I can also appreciate the rootlessness of Henry. When people ask me where I come from, I do not have an answer having moved around a lot as a child .A sequel would be great following Charlotte as she was a very interesting character .I would like to know what happened to her eventually.

Gagagran Tue 19-Jul-16 09:24:33

I found this book very bleak. Charlotte and Henry were two egocentric personalities who did not understand each other's needs. She was not cut out for the self-sacrifice motherhood entails and he was an academic who felt rootless and a bit lost.

There was no joy or pleasure or fun and the characters, as written, were selfish and boring. To me the novel was claustrophobic and I would not recommend it to friends.

My question to the author is why was it so very gloomy?

philatel Tue 19-Jul-16 12:19:19

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I really felt for Charlotte who never really wanted to go to Australia in the first place. Then being left on her own in a new country with 2 young children - and the heat - no wonder she was depressed. I know we moan about the cold and the rain here but I think I would miss it! I found it very easy to read and wanted to know what happened eventually.

mrsph Tue 19-Jul-16 12:41:29

I thought this was so beautifully written and the sadness of her situation came through in such a realistic way. I would love to know what inspired the story?

Maggiemaybe Wed 20-Jul-16 21:00:54

I was very much looking forward to reading this book, as my parents, sister and I were due to travel to Australia as £10 Poms back in the 50s, when I was a few months old. My mother refused to go at the last minute and although she never regretted it for a moment, my dad did, not only because they lost their £20 grin, but because he remained firmly convinced that we would have had a much better life out there.

I would have liked more fleshing out of the family's life both in England and Australia. I'd like to have learnt more about the lifestyle they had in both countries - who were their friends, where did they shop, did they ever have any fun? I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, though I had sympathy for Charlotte and a bit more for Henry as they struggled with their sense of identity and belonging. The affair between Charlotte and Nicholas was very sterile – I didn’t detect any real feelings there. The only people I really cared about were the children.

Saying that, I enjoyed the author’s very accomplished writing. Her descriptive prose was beautiful and very strong.

Could I ask the author whether the ending is supposed to be ambiguous, or is it just me? I can't decide whether Charlotte intends to stay with her family or abandon them again for Nicholas (in which case I like her even less smile).

granh1 Fri 22-Jul-16 19:51:40

The main characters in the book are a couple, Charlotte and Henry, and the main theme is their relationship to each other and their past lives.

Charlotte is an artist, so vision and her relationship to her environment are important to her. There are beautiful descriptions of the countryside around the cottage where they lived, in the Fens. She is alive to the weather, plants and trees growing and the call of the birds. She identifies with it all, and uses it in her art work – at least while she was painting, pre children. I am also an artist, and had three children in quick succession, so I understand where she is coming from. No time and space for self anymore, just an endless task of caring, which however much you love, you also resent. I think Charlotte was depressed. I found a link between creativity and depression – a vicious circle, creativity lifts depression, depression deadens creativity. The way out is to force yourself to be creative, which Charlotte did by starting a painting of Henry. It is hard to do though, so the painting is very slow, and she gives up. Another way out of sadness is to relate to something new. She takes the children to play group, which at first looks unpromising, but does lead to a new female friend.

Henry is a poet and academic, so words and ideas are more important to him than visual imagery. He loves Charlotte, but does not understand her. It’s a sad story really, two people meet and fall in love and have children together, without having a similar view on life – there’s bound to be problems.

I love the way it is written, with words conjuring up visual images of profound beauty.

gillybob Mon 25-Jul-16 13:46:07

I have just finished reading The Other Side of The World. Thank you for my copy GNHQ.

I agree with granh1 when she says that Henry does not seem to understand Charlotte.

Whilst they were clearly in love at the beginning I don't think they had a great deal in common. I thought that both Henry and Charlotte were quite selfish but in different ways. It was clear that Charlotte did not want to go to Australia and was perfectly happy being miserable in The Fens. Henry on the other hand, saw the move as something positive, something that would change their life his life for the better. In Australia he had a job and colleagues. He had a purpose whilst Charlotte was expected to be content being wife and mother.I don't feel that Henry took her painting very seriously at all.
I could see Charlotte abandoning her children from early in the book (especially after she sold the painting) although I can't quite understand how any mother could do this, I can understand why she did it. I found the ending (where they all met up again) a touch too far fetched but enjoyed the book nonetheless. I would like to know what happened after and can't help but feel that Charlotte probably abandoned her children for the second time.