What makes you ‘You’? What if your identity was in question? Is identity irrevocably linked to what others ‘expect’ of you? These are the questions posed in “Beside Myself“.
Told in two time periods, twenty-five years apart, it is the story of identical twin girls, Helen and Ellie. As in many relationships one twin was a ‘leader’ (Helen) whilst the other was a ‘follower’ (Ellie). When they are six years old Helen decides one day to trade personas, trade clothes, and fool those around them (including their mother). She realizes only too quickly her tragic mistake. She finds herself on a slippery slope with no hope of a ladder. For Ellie is enjoying being the smart one, the popular one, her mother’s favorite. Ellie won’t switch back. Helen is desperate to make others aware of her plight but no one believes her…
Fast forward in time twenty-five years. The reader is introduced to Smudge. Great name in this case as her identity has been smudged away.
A down and out artist. Drinks too much, smokes too much, is promiscuous, lives in squalor. Smudge is mentally ill. She hears voices and her paranoia threatens to overwhelm her. Now the reader questions their earlier assumptions that Smudge is really a grown up Helen. Could she in fact be Ellie???
Smudge receives a phone call from her mother letting her know that her sister has been in an accident and is now in a coma. Acting all her life, ‘Hellie’ is now a successful television actress. She is the successful one, the beautiful one, the one with a husband, a daughter … a life.
There have been many novels penned about twins. So interesting to have two separate personalities who look identical. We can’t resist wondering what it would be like. After reading this novel, I NEVER want to find out. I was filled with angst and misgiving much like the feeling I used to get watching old movies where the heroine was committed to a mental hospital when there was nothing wrong with her. The injustice of it all!
Smudge is a beguiling and well wrought character that the reader just cannot help but empathize with. Her sadness and loneliness make you ache for her.
“Beside Myself” underscores just how fine a line there is between love and hate. This novel also paints an alarmingly vivid portrait of mental illness. But was the mental illness caused by the events? Or… were the events caused by the mental illness? Or, is heredity the only cause?
If you live a lie long enough, does that lie become truth?
A well rendered, chillingly dark, and very unsettling novel of family dysfunction, “Beside Myself” will be enjoyed by all fans of the psychological thriller genre.
Ann Morgan graduated from Cambridge University with a first-class degree in English literature and went on to do a master’s in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. She has a postgraduate diploma with distinction from the London School of Journalism. Singing is her passion and when she’s not writing, she can often be found performing with some of London’s top professional choirs.