On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher. Sphere, 2016.
Check out this gorgeous gorgeous cover. I’m a bit obsessed with this cover. But. It has taken me a while to decide to actually write this review because of how ambivalent I feel about this book. I am a huge fan of Carrie Hope Fletcher, a British YouTuber who is also a theater actress and now a writer. I watch all of her videos and secretly wish
to have her life to be her. I read and reviewed her first book, All I Know Now, a while ago, which is kind-of a YA advice book that I really enjoyed. On the Other Side is Carrie’s first stab at fiction…and unfortunately it didn’t quite go so well.
On the Other Side is the story of Evie, an old woman who has died and found herself in limbo. Before she can enter her own personal heaven, she must come to peace with some people in her life. The story alternates between the narrative of her past and the narrative of the present, in which Evie must come to terms with her past to get to heaven.
The flow of the plot was really effective. The way the past and present narratives weave together allows the reader to learn about Evie’s past life as she tries to make peace with it, which was a really neat aspect of the book. There are also elements of magical realism in the text, some of which were more effective than others. There were times I felt the story was a modern fairy tale (which makes sense because Carrie is such a huge Disney fan).
The problem was that the fairy-tale-esque elements and the realistic elements were not mixed well. For instance, Evie’s mother is basically a wicked-witch type character who wants to force Evie to marry someone she doesn’t love and keeps her cooped up and controlled (very Mother Gothel). But the setting of the book in modern times made this feel too unrealistic. It’s great to have magical realism and/or fairy-tale inspired plots in modern settings, but the execution of it in this book was murky to me. I wasn’t really sure whether I was supposed to be reading this as a fantasy, a modern fairy-tale, magical realism, or something in-between. It was a bit like a more feminine, amateurish Mitch Albom novel.
Painful thing #1 about the book being amateurish is just that I love Carrie and could see a lot of Carrie in this book. If you watch her videos regularly, you will notice little details in the book that are clearly references to her life. I was totally fine with this because objectively speaking, the references were not just randomly thrown in as winks to her audience – they jelled with the story so that if you weren’t familiar with the author, the details wouldn’t seem out of place. But the effect this had on me was that it made it even harder to be objectively critical of the book. These details made it hard to separate the art from the artist.
Painful thing #2 is that there were many parts of the book that were not amateurish. I wanted so badly for the entire book to be good, but it was very inconsistent in terms of quality. At one point I’d be loving it and at another, cringing. She falls into many traps of inexperienced young authors: weak secondary character development, rapid plot shifts, lack of subtlety. But the book also had moments that were charming, original, and sweet – I particularly loved the early courtship of Vincent and Evie at the Tube station and think this was the strongest part of the book. Based on its good qualities, it’s a solid starting point for a young author. Carrie is only 24 years old, and from where she is now, her books (if she continues to write fiction) will continue to improve. It just seems that her fame was enough to convince someone to publish her first novel before it was ready.
I look forward to seeing her improvement because naturally, I will read whatever she comes out with. She’s got a built-in audience, so even if her books aren’t great, they will sell – the trend of YouTubers writing books is only growing from when I blogged about it a year ago. Carrie is actually releasing a novella companion to On the Other Side called Winter’s Snow. It’s only available through Waterstones, so I hope they ship to the US. The story is about Vincent’s journey to heaven, which On the Other Side did leave me curious to learn about. The cover is also beautiful.
Altogether, I give On the Other Side three stars because I love Carrie and see so much of her in the book – it’s a sentimental book and I’m a sentimental person. (Though objectively as a novel I’d give it two.)