A spooky twin tale…

Ann Morgan’s Beside Myself is a very well-written, more than a little horrifying, spooky tale of a pair of twins, Helen and Ellie, who, one day in childhood, swap identities – as you do, if you are identical and mischievous. Helen is the outgoing, vivacious leader while quieter Ellie is the follower. At the end of the day, Ellie/Helen refuses to become Ellie again and denies that Helen/Ellie is really Helen. Everyone believes Ellie/Helen, who becomes Helen, and not only gets all Helen’s clothes and toys but all Helen’s relationships with her friends, teachers and mother. Particularly cruelly, Ellie/Helen denies utterly even when they are alone that Helen/Ellie ever was, let alone is, Helen.

Helen’s insistence that she is in fact Helen and not Ellie leads to her branding as a trouble-maker and liar, as disturbed and malicious. Twenty-five years later ‘Smudge’ is estranged from her family,  her life and mind in barely held-together bits, when a phone call threatens to pull her back into the orbit of her sister, Helen-who-was-Ellie. This is a clever and compulsive psychological thriller,  weaving questions about cause and effect into Helen’s story of disintegration: is her precarious mental state only a result of her sad and shattering life (in the circumstances, her state seems like a completely reasonable response to the stealing of her identity) or is there another family history playing out?

Nathan Filer, who wrote the unforgettable The Shock of the Fall, reviewed here back in 2013, has heaped praise on Beside Myself, and it is well deserved, a riveting exploration of losing one’s sense of self and attempting to live anyway. I found myself really curious about Helen-who-was-Ellie, and why she did what she did – the answers are surprising and heart-breaking but you cheer for Smudge as she gropes towards a new life. Utterly absorbing, this one will frighten you…

Beside

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