Ann Morgan’s Beside Myself is an incredibly tense, creepy novel about twins sisters who swap places one day as a joke, then one refuses to swap back. There were a lot of elements to the story; including mental illness, suicide and the effect a parent’s love, or lack of, can have as we grow up.
Helen has always been the favourite twin, always considered the more intelligent and popular. Slowly, after they swap and she becomes ‘Ellie’ we see her spiral downhill as she slowly loses her identity whilst the new ‘Helen’ blossoms. Her story is told in alternating chapters, starting in first person and ending in second as her mental health deteriorates. The rest of the story shows current day ‘Ellie’, or Smudge’ as she now considers herself, coming to terms with what happened to her after ‘Helen’ is involved in a car crash and now comatose.
There are a lot of elements to the story, and without the differentiation between third and first/second person I don’t think it would have worked as well as it did (although, in hindsight, I think my Netgalley copy was a bit buggy and actually the completed novel is obviously set out a lot better!). It didn’t feel quite as satisfying as I’d hoped when all those elements came together, but I feel like that was a deliberate chocolate and that a completely wrapped up ending would have been disingenuous to the tone of the rest of the novel.
The underlying issue of mental health is probably my favourite part; there’s the insinuation that mental illness runs in Smudge’s family and the shame of that causes her mother to act the way she does. I liked the way that a big deal wasn’t made of the voices in Smudge’s head, nor was her mental health used as an excuse for her bad behaviour. It was a symptom of her downward spiral, not a glorified reason for violence.
Overall I found Beside Myself to be a very gripping read, with complex issues. It wasn’t perfect, but it was ambitious and well written with a flawed main character I was really rooting for.
I received a free copy of Beside Myself from Netgalley.