Author: Clare Varley (Melbourne)
After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.
The opening scenes in ‘The Bit In Between’ were somewhat contrived, and I thought I would struggle to finish. However, Varley successfully imparts her characters with enough endearing humanity that you want to read on for their sake, despite a longwinded plot that drags the victims of its love affair across the globe into a tale rife with magic realism and random back stories.
I found it a bit strange that 25 year old Alison was able to afford to jet off to the Solomon Islands and live there for an undefined period of time without the slightest tingle of financial concern beforehand. Who has savings after living, teaching, and supporting a man child in China? The authenticity of the characters is the most enjoyable part of this story. Alison seems like a cool chick, which makes it seem doubly odd that she would fall for a tragic Mummy’s boy like Oliver. These are just examples of my main gripe with this novel; it is hard to swallow.
I am all for magic realism, especially in a setting as fertile as the Solomon Islands. However, the whole concept of Oliver suddenly being able to control real life events through the future he has written for his characters is thrust in the mix in a way that made me wonder a) why and b) wtf. In the same way, the novel randomly throws up back stories about chance characters. I found these passages odd when they first started cropping up, and the frequency fizzled out as soon as I started to rely on them.
Varley does a great job of depicting the Solomon Island natives, and I enjoyed her descriptions of local customs, characters and language. All grown up babies should be able to relate to the amusingly authentic voice of Oliver’s mother in her email missives to her son, and the novel is peppered with nuggets of insightful description that are sure to make you laugh.
However, as Varley herself says, “… the end of a book was the author’s way of offering advice to the world’, and I am confused about what Varley is trying to tell me. The Lady or the Tiger ending was dissatisfying, and I found the mention of the plane crash somewhat distressing and confusing. If Varley’s advice is; ‘If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be,’ there were definitely more powerful ways to divulge this tired message.
I give this book three out of five stars, for Oliver’s mum and the characters who are very human in their toils. It’s not bad holiday reading if you happen to come by it, but the story rambles and changes its mind about what it wants to be a bit too much for my liking.