STARRED REVIEW
October 2016

Finding a place when you don’t fit in

By Stephanie Bishop
The bored, bourgeois housewife going off the reservation has a long pedigree in literature. Emma Bovary is perhaps the canonical example. It didn't end well for her. And it's not clear that it ends well for the protagonist of Stephanie Bishop's The Other Side of the World.
Share this Article:

The bored, bourgeois housewife going off the reservation has a long pedigree in literature. Emma Bovary is perhaps the canonical example. It didn't end well for her. And it's not clear that it ends well for the protagonist of Stephanie Bishop's The Other Side of the World.

Said protagonist is Charlotte, wife to an Anglo-Indian egghead named Henry. She follows him to Australia from England to escape the country's dismal winters. Or so she tells herself. But she's no sooner off the boat than she develops a repulsion to the land down under. She seems to mind being a wife and mother even more. Why then did she marry and have children? She knows even less than we. But this was the mid-1960s, when women who had been channeled into traditional roles were beginning to chafe at them.

Rather like Charles Bovary, Henry is nice but dull, romantic but somewhat self-centered. He is too preoccupied with work to notice his wife's wandering eyes. They land on Nicholas, who appreciates Charlotte's aspirations in the visual arts. Her art is the only thing keeping her sane, until it isn't. When Henry's mother in India nears death, he shoves off to Delhi to tend to her. This leaves Charlotte to consider her next, quite surprising move.

The Other Side of the World is as much about a kind of free-floating restlessness as it is about a failing marriage. By virtue of his skin color, Henry doesn't fit in anywhere. Charlotte can't seem to be content anywhere, or with anything. She seems to love her children only in a rather instinctual sense. But she's ready at any moment to abandon them. Henry, meanwhile, is a study in Faust-like futility, laboring over an academic treatise. He longs for India; then he longs for "ordinary suburban boredom.”

This rather suffocating feeling of pointlessness ends up dominating the novel. The Other Side of the World could have been a tired reprise of the Bovary morality tale. Instead it becomes more like Virginia Woolf, Kate Chopin or Jhumpa Lahiri. That is, it becomes a powerful manifesto of liberation. Not happiness, just liberation. Happiness is more complicated. Just ask Flaubert's Emma.

Trending Reviews

Get the Book

The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World

By Stephanie Bishop
Atria
ISBN 9781501133121

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!