Review–Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

cover71940-mediumBeside Myself is Ann Morgan’s debut novel and it is quite brilliant. Helen and Ellie are 6-year-old identical twins who are, in fact, separable. Helen is assertive and, at times, quite cruel to her more passive and meek sister. One day, they decide to switch clothes and pretend to be each other… but when it comes time to switch back, Ellie refuses to do so. As the days pass, Ellie easily steps into Helen’s footsteps, becoming more confident and dominant while Helen flounders, with all her attempts to prove herself as Helen only making her seem more Ellie-like. Over two decades later, Helen receives a phone call and visitor who turn her world upside down.

The narrative switches between Helen’s second person narrative as she grows up as Ellie and the present-day third person of a damaged grown-up Helen, better known as “Smudge.” We learn how Helen’s life fell apart and how she became such a broken person. This is compelling stuff… I found myself getting pulled so deeply into Helen’s world, crying with her pain, smiling with her (occasional) triumphs, and feeling anxious as she makes terrible decision after terrible decision. Fluctuating between severe depression and mania, Helen is a self-destructive but incredibly sympathetic character. The various supporting characters were also excellent complements to Helen. I enjoyed the little details assigned to these characters and the use of the cities and towns as tertiary characters. Ann Morgan creates a rich world that only shows how isolated and alone Helen/Smudge its.

Throughout the book, I was struck by the choice of narrative style–the second person narrative combined with being flashbacks, left me constantly wondering how reliable Helen’s perception of her past is. Could I trust her memories? Could she? This was contrasted with the third person, present day narrative which I knew to be the truth. This narrative choice kept me on my toes and curious about how the story would unravel.

Overall, I thought this was a tightly plotted novel with one of the most well-drawn, sympathetic, complex, and real protagonists I’ve encountered in a while. This is one of my Top 5 books this year.

I received this book for free from Netgalley