‘A love story like no other…’
The perfect way to encapsulate this novel.
Carrie Hope Fletcher is well known for her stage appearances, most recently in the UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and for her hugely popular Youtube channel, Itswaypastmybedtime. Yet as an avid reader it was only a matter of time before she turned her talents to writing novels. Carrie clearly has a natural talent for lyricism as she has written many songs herself and I think this talent adds to her writing. Although On the other side is Carrie’s debut fictional novel, Carrie has already penned the hugely popular All I know now, which is more like an autobiography, containing advice for young people on getting through the ‘teen years’. Despite On the other side being classed as ‘adult fiction’, Carrie herself believes it to be aimed at an audience of 16 years and over as her followers (aka Hopefuls) are largely around this age.
Without a doubt I would consider myself to be a Hopeful. I first saw Carrie in Les Misérables, playing the role of Éponine, and she was amazing: her acting, her interpretation of the character and above all, her voice. Ever since that day I have enjoyed watching her Youtube videos and following many of her other social media accounts, so when she announced she was going to be writing a fiction novel I was very excited and after having read the book, I feel that those months of excitement were more than justified. Although I may be considered biased to review a book by someone I am so inspired by, I feel that already knowing about Carrie means that I enjoyed the book on a different level because there are so many aspects of the novel that feel like Carrie; it is certainly her novel. Of course, I truly believe that anyone who is unfamiliar with Carrie and her work will thoroughly enjoy this novel because it is just brilliant.
The title, On the other side, gives a good hint that the protagonist, Evie Snow, has passed away before the beginning of the novel and is on her journey to heaven. In the novel everyone has their own personal heaven, the place that they were happiest in, and for Evie that is the flat she lived in when she left home. Carrie wrote the novel based on her thoughts about what would happen if someone were unable to enter their heaven, and this is exactly what happens to Evie. When she reaches her apartment door, some words appear:
‘Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door.
Leave the weight of the world in the world from before.
Once it is lighter your key shall then turn,
And you will be able to have what you yearn.’
These phrases make up the central motif of the novel and I think it’s a very interesting one; I certainly have not read a book with this idea before, which meant I was immensely intrigued and just had to keep reading.
Overall, the whole aesthetic of the book is immeasurably pleasing. The quote on the back is beautiful and the images on the front all tie in with the story, some as part of the secrets that Evie must share, and others are simply key features in the life of Evie Snow. I think that the colour scheme is simple, yet effective; the pale red and cream give the book a classic look, whilst the purple features draw your eye and create intrigue as to how those things will feature in the narrative.
As I have explained already, the key idea is that Evie is unable to enter her apartment, her personal heaven, and so the story focuses on her journey to reveal the three secrets that she has been keeping throughout her lifetime. With the help of Dr Lieffe, who is used very cleverly by Carrie to guide Evie and help her on her journey, Evie must choose someone to reveal each secret to. She is then able to enter the world of the living via a wall in the apartment block. Each secret makes up a separate section of the novel and is introduced by a title page that looks very much like the cover but the only image on the tree is that which corresponds to that particular secret. The three secrets Evie must reveal are: the black bird, the shoe box and the good tree. However, there are almost two stories being told in this novel. The first being Evie’s journey, and the second being Evie’s life from when she left home to when she got married. The flashbacks to Evie’s past are used by Carrie to give the reader an insight into her life. They are generally fairly lengthy but this is necessary so that we feel we are living with Evie for a little while and in my opinion this makes the reader more emotionally attached to the character and what happens to her.
Interestingly, I was watching one of Carrie’s videos the other day called ‘Why we sing in musicals’ and the video just so happened to be about this novel. As the novel is about people from the real world (i.e. it is not a fantasy) but contains elements of magic, such as the wall, the novel is technically classed as ‘magical realism’. So in this video Carrie was answering a question that someone asked her: how she chooses when to add the magical elements. To describe this, Carrie used the analogy of when songs appear in musicals, because they are not simply evenly spaced to make a good show. She used one of my favourite quotes to do this:
‘Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.’ – Victor Hugo
Carrie explains that a character sings in a musical when words are no longer adequate to convey their feelings; they need a stronger force. She says that it is just the same with the magical elements in On the other side. Magic appears when a character’s emotions are so strong that words are no longer enough to convey them. This helped me as there was a scene in the third secret that I found a little bit odd, although I understood its necessity and why it was a clever idea. But still, I found it a little peculiar, so after having watched this particular video I completely understood it as it was a very strong case of a character’s emotions needing a stronger outlet than words. (If you read the book, you’ll know the bit I mean.)
The hardest thing about this book is the choice that Evie must make between Vincent and Jim. Vincent is a man whom she meets whilst living away from home for a year, a freedom that is granted to Evie by her mother and will become permanent if she can find a better job for herself. The meeting of Evie and Vincent is very romantic and the pair are clearly in love, as can be seen from their descriptions of one another:
‘He noticed she had a twinkle. It was right there in her eyes. Maybe it was the slight scrunch of her nose when she smiled at him which made the corner of her eyes crease that caused it or maybe it was the way her eyebrows framed her face but no matter what it was, when he saw that twinkle all he heard in his head was his heart laughing.’ – Young Vincent
‘He was handsome in a funny sort of way. His nose had a notch in its bridge, presumably from where it had been broken, and the tip was large and rounded, the kind of nose Evie would give her more adorable cartoon characters.’ – Young Evie
‘You’re spectacular…I mean it…You’re like…that single firework that makes everyone gasp in a display that would otherwise have been quite disappointing.’ – Young Vincent
‘The laws of gravity changed and she was no longer being pulled towards the earth, but towards him.’ – Young Evie
‘And when she saw his eyes smile without having to see his lips, she got the feeling that this might be the start of her greatest adventure yet.’ – Young Evie
Personally, I was not too sure about Vincent to begin with but I think that is simply because he is not my personal taste in men; yet I quickly grew to like him very much. He is an interesting character because although he does have flaws he’s so sweet, loveable and genuine that you cannot help but be endeared to him.
On the other hand, there’s Jim. He’s Evie’s childhood friend and the pair have a close friendship; Jim is so obviously a great guy and I wanted him to be happy, but the fact is, he loves Evie and she is in love with Vincent. But as with so many love stories, it is never that simple. If Evie does not find a better job and win the deal, she has told her mother that she will marry whichever man her mother chooses and she will make no more fuss. From the offset this hangs over Evie’s young self and there are hints straight away as to which way things might go.
‘She wiggled her fingers, realising that her left hand did not yet bear an engagement ring. A ring that had not only weighed down her hand with its extravagant, too-big emerald, but had weighed down her heart too with its significance.’ – Older Evie
‘Neither of them could have known that this was the calm before the storm.’ – flashback narrative
‘rooting for a love that had been doomed from the beginning.’ – flashback narrative
These hints add to the heart-breaking nature of this novel. I was always aware that something bad lay in the future for Evie and Vincent, and I could hazard a good guess at what it might be, but I willed it not to happen with my whole heart.
Who was my favourite character? No question. Evie Snow. Evie is based on who Carrie would like to be as a person and there are so many similarities (more than just their mutual adoration of tea!). Evie is a strong, independent woman who is inspirational in her search to get what she wants in life and to never give up, despite how bad things get. The reflection of Carrie in this is clear to me as I am totally inspired by Carrie, usually on a daily basis. A smaller hint to Carrie is when Evie says, ‘No, I won’t be hopeless. I am full of hope. I’m a Hope-ful.’ (Carrie’s followers being called the Hopefuls.) Something that made me smile is when Evie exclaims, ‘One whose terrain no one explores on a first date!’ and then thinks ‘OK, that was a pretty good line.’ I wonder if that thought is in fact Carrie and what she thought when she wrote that line, because let’s be honest, it is a good line.
Despite Evie being undoubtedly my favourite character, I do have a big soft spot for Little One. This is the name of the black bird from the first secret and without giving away too much, I will say that Carrie uses him cleverly to symbolise the love between Evie and Vincent and I love that they write their messages on him and he flies between them to deliver their words; he is incredibly loyal. There is something beautiful and magical about Carrie’s personification of Little One and the way he roots for the young lovers.
There are many other smaller aspects of this novel that make it as beautiful as it is. Carrie chooses to explore different sexualities throughout the book and I think that this is important for a modern novel as it also educates those who are not too familiar with the kinds of sexualities that exist. She does it in such a way that it is not obvious that she is showing such diversity, but instead it is a simple fact of some of the characters that they have a different sexuality to being heterosexual, like so many characters are in novels. Carrie portrays characters that are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and pansexual. Additionally, the attitude of Evie’s parents (and Jim’s) to marriage and being of a different sexuality highlights how attitudes have changed as there are clear contrasts.
Moreover, after Evie has told one of her secrets the narrative changes for a while so that the reader can know how the person Evie has revealed her secret to feels and what they do about the secret. This is a necessary step as Evie herself, being between the living and heaven, has no idea until her secret has been fully revealed. What I love about these episodes are that Evie’s secrets do not only help her get to her heaven, they help her family with the problems they are experiencing in their lives, and they find out more about Evie. When a secret is revealed it seems everyone is better off and Evie is one step closer to gaining access to her heaven, and she can tell as she feels herself getting lighter. I loved a particular simile that Carrie used to describe the sensation Evie feels in her chest,
‘like a hummingbird beating its wings’.
One of my favourite scenes in the novel is where Evie has crossed the wall (so is a ghost) and is watching her family sort through her belongings. Her children and husband discuss what Evie would have wanted them to keep and so often they are wrong and it made me smile as Evie explains the real reason she had that possession and the two stories do not match at all. I liked this scene as it made me wonder how many people keep possessions because they think their loved one would have wanted them to, when in fact that is not the case at all.
Something I will not forget for a long time is the ending of this novel; it was utterly amazing. I cried many times whilst reading the book, but at the end my tears could not be contained. The ending was one of the best endings I have ever read and even though I had tears rolling down my cheeks, I could not help but smile. In fact, I was crying so much by the last page that I had to put the book down and compose myself before I could read the final paragraph or so. This is a truly unforgettable novel and I am beyond glad that I read it.
If I were to sum up this book in as few words as I could, I would say it is both beautiful and heart-breaking. There is simply a beauty to the story and the way in which Carrie writes, yet, at the same time, the story is utterly heart-breaking and I could not hold back the floods of tears; I think this shows the power of this story and Carrie’s ability to grip her audience. The quote on the inside of the dust-jacket says it all for me.
‘Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, On the other side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget. This is a love story like no other that will have you weeping because of the sheer joy and beauty of it all.’
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite books and the only way I can think to recommend it is by saying that it is just magical.
On the other side – Carrie Hope Fletcher, published by Sphere, first published in 2016, RRP £12.99, ISBN 978-0-7515-6314-6