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.
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?