I really wanted to love this novel.
Now before I start, I want to say that I didn’t dislike it. I definitely enjoyed it! It made me laugh and it made me cry. It is an incredibly sweet first novel that I know lots of people have been loving so far! But On the Other Side was not 100% my cup of tea. Perhaps I’m too picky or maybe I was a little bit too old for it, despite the novel technically being classed as “Women’s Fiction”. Either way, I know that lots of people will have enjoyed On the Other Side a lot more than I did. I’m not here to tell them they’re wrong for doing so! But I did have a mixed response to it, so here are my thoughts overall.
Firstly, On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher is a charming idea. I am always a sucker for a love story and this book really does deliver with frequent moments of romance. The novel tells the story of Evie Snow who, aged 82, passes away and finds herself in the apartment building she lived in as a young woman. To get to her own “private heaven” which lies beyond her front door, Evie must make her soul light enough to pass through. To do this, Evie must share three secrets she’s kept hidden from her loved ones for over half a century.
I really liked this concept. I love stories about the afterlife so I was immediately intrigued about how this idea would be tackled. I also desperately wanted to know more about Evie’s three secrets… However, the novel’s execution lets it down. Fletcher’s sentences are seemingly endless and I found this incredibly distracting. I am a fan of short sentences in fiction. I think that they can be devastating and poignant. On the Other Side has a couple of really nice sharp moments like this, but, overall, the prose seemed quite muddled up and longwinded.
Fletcher does succeed in creating some really wonderful imagery though. I especially liked the way the magical elements of the story, such as the afterlife and the good tree, are described. Through these sections, you can tell Fletcher has a vivid imagination and a skill for writing about the supernatural. But, on the whole, the writing was not slick enough for me to enjoy fully.
Another element of the novel that left me with questions was the novel’s place in time. Evie comes from a rich family with antiquated beliefs and traditions, some of which connote a 1950’s setting or earlier. She works in a Mad Men-esque office where sexual harassment is rife and the general impression is that women are not expected to work. This all seems to place the story very much in the past, however, smart phones, skinny jeans and McDonalds seem to exist, which would suggest it is modern. The novel’s setting is never made clear, so are we supposed to believe that the world the novel is set in is “timeless”? I don’t think this would have mattered much if it was made a lot clearer from the outset, however, I personally don’t think it worked well. The fact that nothing has changed in the 55 years between Evie being 27 and Evie being 82 just seems ludicrous to me. I realise that, due to the novel’s elements of magical realism, the absence of time and societal change could be explained as part of the “magic”, but I really feel the book loses any kind of believability it might have had, and misses out on some great details that could have been included, if this had been considered. Little references to events from the past definitely could have been woven into the narrative, perhaps as simply as describing a song from a certain era that our leading man, Vincent, might have played on his violin. Evie is also interested in a career in animation. Placing the novel in an era such as the 40s or 50s would’ve been quite an exciting time for Evie to live in, especially as full length animated films were in their early stages with Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the first animated feature film using hand drawn animation) only being released in 1937! With Fletcher’s notable love of Disney, I think these details would have been easy for her to include.
I don’t want to be too negative about this novel as it was genuinely a fun read and, despite some questionable elements, Fletcher definitely has some great ideas that make for a good story. As mentioned, the magical elements were what made this for me, and the romance between Evie and Vincent felt very sweet and very original. I loved the details included, especially the song Evie sings to her son, the orange boiled sweets as well as all of the lovely chapter illustrations featured throughout the book. The novel is also surprisingly diverse with several characters representing different sexualities. This was something I didn’t expect, but was great to see and I loved the way Fletcher tackled this aspect of the story.
To summarise, despite a few issues with the novel, I definitely enjoyed On the Other Side. It was quite an easy read and definitely would satisfy any readers who are looking for a sweet and romantic story. I would also recommend tissues as there were a few moments in there that left me feeling rather emotional. I was stuck between 2 and 3 stars when it came to rating this book so I guess it’s a 2.5 from me! A fun debut novel from Carrie Hope Fletcher!