On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher || Book Review



Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher is a West-End actress and youtuber over at WayPastYourBedtime. She is also the author of the non-fiction book All I Know Now and she is currently touring in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as Truly Scrumptious. On the Other Side is Carrie’s debut fiction novel.

Rating: **

Review:

First of allplease don’t hate me! I like Carrie as much as the next person, her fictional debutnot so much.

On The Other Side is being released today and I am sure it’ll be a hit, but as a Creative Writing graduate and writer myself I did not love it.

On the Other Side is a magical realism novel about an 82 year old woman, called Evie, who dies and goes to her own personal purgatory – her old flat – and has to complete three tasks to lighten her soul – which is too heavy – in order to get into heaven. The three tasks involve a lot of exposition before any of them are filled and that was one of the issues I faced when reading this book.

The novel is fairly short at around 280 pages yet 100 of them are entirely exposition. I found that this lack of structure and pace meant that whilst the story was interesting during the exposition, and I enjoyed the romance that occurs, I ultimately forgot, for a while, what the purpose of the exposition was for.

The character Evie goes through a wall in purgatory– I’ll get to the magical realism in a moment – and witnesses her time as a 27 year old living in London for a year, attempting to break into a career as an animator.

Here was the biggest issue for me.

When Evie is 82 she is living in modern times, which means that she jumps back 55 years into 1960-1961. At no point does the era feel like the 1960s. There are mobiles, proms – in England? – upper-class arranged marriages – still? etc. It didn’t feel like the 1960s at all and it didn’t feel like Carrie, or the editors, had given much thought to setting the era.

As a tip for anyone writing about the 1960s, or any era, – use music, use hairdos, use newspaper headlines or politics, anything, to set the time period otherwise you end up confusing your readers!

Anywayso she goes back to the 1960s where 27 year old Evie met and fell in love with a violist called Vincent Winters. The character names bugged me in the novel. It’s just a personal preference so not really important, but I really didn’t like the families all having names starting with the same first letter: i.e. Eleanor, Ewan, Edward and Evelyn ‘Evie’ SnowJim, James, Jane Summers. It feels a little force. I can live with the surnamespossibly.

Again, anywayThe romance between Vincent and Evie is sweet. I particularly liked their meeting and the use of the sweets. It was an original, charming idea and I liked the chemistry between them.

In the middle of the relationship, however - which is still being described when we’re all wondering what the hell is going on with old Evie and purgatory – the relationship feels too modern, again. And some of the events that happen and the reasoning for why it doesn’t work out are just not strong enough in my opinion.

The evil mother, the antagonist of the novel, felt a bit cliché, particularly as there didn’t seem to be anything but evilness about her.

Another tip for new writers: characters are not two-dimensional. If they are the antagonist they are doing bad things for a reason which they think is good – it is not simply because they detest their children or ‘things are done that way.’

Now to the writing of the pieceCarrie is a new fiction writer so the writing is acceptable, if flawed. I know that she got the book deal for the idea and not the writing ability so I can forgive her for this. However, I found On the Other Side to hold to the ‘telling rather than showing’ aspect of writing and it is the first thing that should be knocked out of you when you begin a writing career!

At times Carrie almost seemed to get bored with what she was writing and wanted to push on with the story, so she simply tells us what happened in a period and jumps to the next. It is disorientating and slightly annoying as you want to savour information not digest it all at once.

I noticed this particularly towards the end when old Evie gets on the path of lightening her soul, when we find out what happened to the men in her life – Jim Summers and Vincent Winters – again with the surnames!

We find out what happened to Vincent’s wife in a very ‘amateur way - first we get their whole life-together in two pages, then their whole break-up in another two and that is it. Bye Bye Cynthia Winters, nee Petal.

I think younger readers will enjoy the story for its narrative and buckets of information,  but for older readers – which technically this book is aimed at seeing as the protagonist is 27 then 82 years old! – It’s a bit young for us. The implied is sometimes stronger than the obvious.

That being said there are elements that I was glad to have seen within a younger-audience novel, in particular the LGBT element. Evie’s brother Edward is gay and this has an impact on the whole story.

However, it’s the 1960sno man ever went up to his family member and said ‘I’m gay’ – firstly being homosexual was illegal until 1967 and even if it was accepted by another family member/friend etc, which I highly doubt in this period, by admitting that you were homosexual you were technically committing a felony. Also the term ‘gay’ was not readily used until the 1980s and it was more likely that the character would have implied that they were gay or used the term homosexual rather than outrightly come out.  

But nonetheless the inclusion of a LGBT character was moving and I think it worked in the overall plot.

Rightmagical realism.

You’d have thought, bearing in mind that the story is partly set in an apartment-building-purgatory that I would have seen the magical realism elements coming. But when I read that the character had travelled to the past through a wall, in a cat’s mouth I was a bit taken back!

She took a step on to Horace’s tongue, trying to be careful not to hurt him. Horace lifted her a few inches off the ground and slowly started to pull her into his open mouth. Evie turned her head to Lieffe, keeping her balance. ’If I come out Horace’s other end, there will be hell to pay when I get back. She ducked as she passed through the cat’s teeth, then sucked in a breath and held it as he gently closed his mouth around her.

Not to mention a certain bird, love letters, and a fruit tree grown from a heart

I felt very strongly that these magical realist elements felt very sickly sweet and were included out of the sake of ‘wouldn’t that be nice element’ rather than actual plot, and they were not written very well.

The bird, for example, carrying love notes on his feathers between Evie and Vincent was not written about until it needed to be a plot device. If it had been included beforehand and carried on throughout the story then I might have understood its usuage and the effect it had on lightening Evie’s soul. It was the same for the cat and the tree – they just appeared at the ‘right moment’. Rather than being included in the whole story.

Convenient?!

Overall I think On the Other Side was an interesting, if not beguiling, first attempt at a novel and the romance elements of it were good and there is promise. Butand there is a big butI think Carrie Hope Fletcher has a bit of way to go before her stories become novels.

This felt very much like a debut and very much like an amateur writing for fun. I think now she has to write with a plot and a stringent structure, and hopefully have more editing in the future as I noticed several misused words, spelling errors and a lack of research in places.

Let me know what you thought of On the Other Side if you have read it, as I would love to discuss the finer elements of it, or let me know if you plan on reading it.

Happy Reading!

8 comments

  1. It sucks that you didn't like it, but at least they have some representation with an LGBT character!

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    1. It is a shame - particularly since I worked with the agency that represented Carrie (hence the early read!) - but the inclusion of LGBT characters was good! It shows a move to modernism in literature.

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  2. I felt a lot of this reading (still reading actually...). I didn't pick up her first book because im very much not the targeted demographic. I was hoping this novel would be a bit more mature. I can't help, but feel like Carrie just doesn't have very much experience writing/plotting out a long story. Im guessing this might be her first attempt at a full length novel. I also wonder how much time this book was put through edits? I watch Carrie's videos and it seemed from the outside (which can be misleading) that she just wrote the story and turned it in. There didn't seem to be a lot of time between when she said she finished writing the book and when she started posting updates about the final book production. I hate saying this, but given the glaring similarities between Carrie and Evie I can't help, but think of the Mary Sue/self insert trope. :(

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    1. I get this entirely. I worked at the literary agency from which Carrie is represented so I have some background information but not much. It mainly gave me the manuscript before a lot of other people and honestly, the editing from that manuscript - which I think I got in Jan - was really not that much...if at all. It's a shame because a really good edit and some fine-tooth combing but it's not an awful attempt at a first novel, by no means. :)

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  3. I agree with your review. I have read a few pages of books by Carrie's sister-in-law before, and didn't like her writing at all, so I didn't expect Carrie's debut to be excellent either (not that they are the same person and will write the same way, of course, but they seem to both like those kinds of mediocre books). I was therefore pleasantly surprised at the first few chapters. Even though the writing was fanfiction-y at times, sometimes I actually liked it, and I certainly liked it more than Giovanna Fletcher's (I'm sorry to sound so mean, but it's just my writing preference). The setting didn't really bother me except for the archaic arranged marriage thing. When I read about how her mother had basically had her locked up in a manor, I got so irritated I had to put the book down for a long while. Carrie has said it wasn't supposed to be set in a specific time, which does seem more like she didn't wanna bother with all that pesky research stuff. I dealt with it by assuming she wanted to write a modern day fairy tale of sorts, so I tried to tune out my irritation and focus on that. So the intriguing beginning got ruined for me by the introduction of her mother (aka 'obstacle' plot device). I had a lot of issues with the fact that we were told how to feel about the characters, instead of being shown what they were like through their thoughts and behaviour. What salvaged the book for me were the scenes between Vincent and Evie, which were sweet and worked well (until the scene at the prom, which I found so cringey. It was also ridiculous for that to have gotten her fired, but then again, her boss and colleague were so two-dimensional that I suppose it made sense). I also found the names cheesy and every scene with Vincent's alcoholic friend was awkward. Lieffe I didn't mind so much and I felt some warmth towards August too, but overall I didn't feel much towards any character because we didn't get to know them. Another big issue I had with the book was the lack of suspense; all the 'secrets' were resolved so quickly and seamlessly, there was nothing to wonder about. The premise of the story was good, and I really liked the descriptions of the apartment block in the beginning. It made me think of an apartment I lived in on exchange in Toronto, but the warmth of that description did not come back later in the story. We were just told that Evie would have tea with Leiffe and talk about Vincent, but none of what made this block such a lovely place to live for her was shown in the 'prequel' scenes. Promising idea, but the execution was just weak. The story fell flat - I felt like she wrote a very small world where every problem was insignificant. To me, it felt like the editors thought it didn't matter to improve this book because she has a ready-made audience. That's a scary thought. She's a busy woman, but surely they could have given it some editing time? Do they not go through a book down to the language and sentence structure? Some real work on that and the plot would have improved this greatly. It just reads like a first attempt.

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    1. I agree. Vincent and Evie's scenes were the highlight of the book and the writing was not awful for an amateur but the lack of planning and editing is just so obvious. She announced in her recent video that the scene of the best friend at the prom was entirely made up on the spot and whilst that is natural part of writing it needed to blend more and it was awfully cringey. I also agree that the break-up and archaic mother were not strong enough and the mother was so 2-D it grated on my writing nerves. I applaud her use of LGBT+ characters but mentioning them and attempting to use them as a plotline does not a great book make. It's a shame but I'll happily read her second novel to see if she improves.

      Ellie xx

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    2. I hope she does, too! And I also hope her editors take note of reviews saying more editing would've helped. I do actually look forward to reading her next one because she seems to have a creative mind for ideas for books. I just wish someone would help her plan those ideas out to fuller, better crafted stories. I liked your detailed review - keep it up :)

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