Beside Myself - Ann Morgan

Genre: Dark/Psychological Fiction
Synopsis: Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.


Review: Firstly, I have to point out that while this book is being touted as a psychological thriller, it is not. It's heavily psychological, but it is not a thriller. Having misconceptions about that going into this book seems to have heavily influenced quite a few reviews I've seen, written by people expecting the next The Girl On The Train. Secondly, I absolutely loved it.  Morgan does a fantastic job of shaping likeable, relateable and also abhorrent characters, as well as evoking mental images of places, people and things. The varying narrative style is clever and the story itself is compelling.On pretty much every front, I have something good to say about this book.

The novel is told entirely from the perspective of the real Helen in two timeframes - from the initial swap at the age of six, where Helen becomes Ellie, and during Helen's adult life, where she is referred to as Smudge. The story gradually brings the two timelines together, filling in the bleak tragedy that is Helen's life over the course of almost thirty years. There is a really interesting narrative device employed to both keep these two timelines distinct, and also to reflect Helen's frame of mind in each one. I won't say what it is, because I found it really added depth to the portrayal of Helen's mental deterioration. Additionally, the initial swap, and the way in which Helen's panic and desperate attempts to prove her true identity unintentionally reinforces her 'Ellie-ness', is brilliant.

I'm pretty sure some people would consider the sheer volume of unpleasant and downright traumatising things that happen to Helen to be gratuitious, and while I'm a teensy bit inclined to agree, this is fiction after all and I found it perfectly credible, if unlikely. The same could be said about the ending - I had no idea how this novel could resolve itself, but ultimately it did a pretty good job. I should probably only give this book 4 stars as there were a couple of small niggles throughout it, but I think I can overlook those in favour of its distinctive creativity and uniqueness. Bear in mind it is as bleak as it sounds!

Rating: 5/5

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