Have you read…? The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

In 1970, my husband’s parents arrived in Australia as ’10 pound poms’, with him, as a toddler, in tow. My father-in-law was the driving force, having been desperate to leave his birthplace from when he was quite young; my mother-in-law accompanied him but her heart has always remained in the UK. There is barely a conversation had with her that does not refer to England. I can see how the lure to be ‘home’ is coloured by her nostalgia; I doubt the present day reality of her birthplace and her now mature siblings can match the image that is in her mind. So for me, this story was quite close to home.

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The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is a beautifully written, heart wrenching novel.  It tells the story of Henry and Charlotte Blackwood and their emigration, with their young daughters, from England to Australia in the mid 1960s. Henry, born in India and sent to England by his British and Indian parents on the eve of India’s independence, is eager to move from the damp, grey English climate and his claustrophobic home environment to the warmer weather and wide open spaces of Australia. Charlotte is resistant, but worn down by new motherhood, she eventually relents. Their story explores our sense of belonging, memory and nostalgia and the strains on a marriage faced with such diametrically opposed needs.

Bishop’s prose is both evocative and insightful. She creates a strong sense of place. Of their cottage in England, everything is ‘too close’.

‘The ceilings are too close. The walls are too close The doors and windows are too close. The very air is thick and stuffy and too close.’

and of their neighbours in their new home in Perth

They are eating a late dinner in the garden, the lilt of their conversation coming from the deep green. There is the sound of knives and forks on china…A light goes on. She hears plates knocked against the edge of the bin and scraped.’

Charlotte’s daughters, Lucie and May, are beautifully drawn, in descriptions of their conversations and behaviour,  and the ‘push and pull’ nature of motherhood sensitively described as Bishop writes of Charlotte needing her children but also feeling ‘smothered’ by them. Have to admit to a few tears stinging my eyes as I read the concluding pages of the book!

There is the sentiment that runs through the novel that when we migrate from our birthplace, that place becomes lost to us. It is a

‘secret world that closes in your absence and never lets you find it again.’

It can leave us feeling isolated and constantly adrift. How does this affect our sense of who we are and how does this impact upon our relationships?

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel both for the themes it explores and its beautiful prose. A highly recommended read, in my opinion!

Does this sound like a story that may interest you? Or perhaps you have  already read it? Have you lived in different places?

15 thoughts on “Have you read…? The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

    1. Thanks Vicki! I haven’t included quotes before but her writing was just so lovely I wanted to give people a little taste of what they could experience if they choose to read the book. The photo didn’t take too long – perhaps 20 minutes to style and edit (I used the Afterlight app to do this one but sometimes I just use the standard photo function on my phone or iPad).It probably took me about 3 hours to write and edit the post. I did it little bits at a time in between family demands.

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    1. You’re right, Vicki, it does take time! I don’t know that I’m much of a ‘styler’. There’s lots of images online for inspiration. The last few reviews I’ve done I’ve just tried to find something around the house that ties in with the colours on book cover and, if possible links in thematically. With this one I was thinking about placing it on a world map but then I saw the blanket on my bed, it tied in and I thought, well, you read in bed, so I’ll just put that all together! Your books are quite weighty so maybe photographing them in a ‘reading environment’ could be good – on a chair/bed/table with a pair of specs strategically placed?

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      1. I’ll give that a go. But realistically I don’think I can photograph every book and will have to supplement with stock images, something that I will have to source.

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  1. I loved this book, too, Carolyn. There was such a wonderful sense of place – both in England and Australia. I found Charlotte quite mysterious – how could she do what she did?!! But her unhappiness was so prevalent throughout the book – she had to do something, I guess!

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    1. I don’t think I could leave, Karen, but I can understand how hard it can be when your heart wants to be in different places. There is no compromise that can be found. That was the heartbreaking part, wasn’t it, that something had to be sacrificed.

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  2. I haven’t read this particular book, but it sounds great. On to the Goodreads book list it goes! I find that sense of longing for home fascinating. Especially the way we romanticise a place, allowing it to mean all these things in our mind that in reality it can never live up to. That’s interesting what you say about your mother in law. I think a lot of Australians, even if they’re second, third, fourth generation, still feel the pull of England. It’s strange. I lived there for a while in 2004-5, and while I enjoyed my time there, it made me realise that Australia was where I wanted to be, long term. Even if my ancestors were English, I was very much not. Thanks for the review Carolyn, looking forward to reading it over summer! x

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    1. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Isabel, and you’ll bring to it your own experience of having lived away from home. I think migration is fantastic for some people – my father-in-law is so pleased to be out of where he lived in the UK – but for others it’s not such a great success. And, of course, once you add in having children whose home is not your home, things become quite difficult.

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  3. Loved your review. So welcoming (as are all your posts). This definitely sounds like a book I should read as it may help me clarify/work through/understand/come to grips with/face some of the ‘issues’ I have being stuck here, so far from home, in so many senses of the word. Am definitely going to seek it out. Thank you for the recommendation: am pinning so I jolt my memory to locate a copy…Helen xx

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    1. I hope you can manage to snare a copy. It is a great read. From what I’ve seen from family and friends, moving away from home works for some but for others it can be very mixed as they feel torn between the desire to be in different places X

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      1. I’ve added it to my Amazon basket so am just waiting to be able to purchase….am in agreement: it definitely works for some and not for others (and the other way around too: I remember my Grandad was desperate to emigrate to Australia (he loved the sun) but my Gran didn’t want to, so they stayed in England. He was by no means a bitter man but, when he spoke about it, you could see the sadness in him….hope you’re having a great week! It’s raining here (thank goodness!)…Helen xx

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