Title: On The Other Side
Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher
Genre: Magical realism
Date Finished: 2 April 2017
Goodreads Rating: 2 stars
Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door, Leave the weight of the world in the world from before,
Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…
I really wanted to like this book. I stumbled across Carrie’s YouTube channel about 18 months ago, and really enjoyed her videos. I read her first book, All I Know Now, which I quite enjoyed. I was impressed that someone breaking into the YouTube book market had managed to create a book that was worth the read, meaningful, and to be frank, not rubbish.
I had such high hopes for On The Other Side. It’s Carrie’s first novel, which honestly is probably why I didn’t give it a lower rating. First books aren’t always the best. Not everyone bursts onto the writing scene with an incredible best seller that catapults them to cult status (at least in the book blogging/tubing community). Although On The Other Side is a best seller. More on that later.
The premise of On The Other Side sounded lovely – after you die, if you have led a good life, you can go to your own personal heaven, the place you were at your happiest. But in order to get there, you have to leave behind the burdens from your previous life, and make right the wrongs that are weighing down your soul. For our main character, Evie Snow (again, more on that later), her burden is the loss of her one true love, Vincent Winters (see above brackets). It had the potential to be magical, and beautiful, and poignant, and great.
When Suicide Squad came out, one of the (many) criticisms was that Cara Delevingne just didn’t have the acting experience required to pull off the complex role of the Enchantress. I feel as though the same could be said of Fletcher and On The Other Side. The execution of what sounded like such a unique and lovely idea just wasn’t there. This review will probably be spoilery, because I have a lot to say, so bear with me.
The plot. I said before the overall idea was lovely, and had so much potential. It did, but the plot itself really let the idea down. Basically, to provide a short, spoiler-filled summary, Evie has moved out of her super wealthy family’s home to live in a flat her mother pays for to work as a cartoonist. She has one year to get a promotion or she has to return home and marry whoever her mother picks for her to marry. She falls in love with dark, artistic Vincent. She loses her job. She and Vincent plan on running away together to escape her mother. Her brother comes to her and tells her he’s gay, but can’t tell their parents or he’ll lose his inheritance and will have nothing. Evie decides to leave Vincent and do what her mother wants, because that way she’ll be able to financially support her brother. She does just that, and marries her best friend who is in love with her but who she doesn’t love. This is all the backstory for why Evie can’t get into her heaven.
I don’t even know where to begin. If On The Other Side had been set in the seventeenth century, or perhaps even as late as the VERY early twentieth century, I could have believed the premise of the plot. But it’s not. Vincent wears skinny jeans. They go to a prom (despite being 27 and 28). And as a result, the whole plot just becomes ridiculous. Arranged marriages are deeply frowned upon in Britain. If Evie was so deeply in love with Vincent that she couldn’t get into her heaven without making amends with him, then she (and her brother) probably could have just gotten jobs like every other adult in the world. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the non-magical realism elements of the plot. I found the whole concept so utterly absurd (and not to mention unrealistic) that it really detracted from my enjoyment of everything else in the novel.
I wasn’t particularly impressed by the magic either. I am fussy about magic in books, but if it’s done well I feel like it adds amazing depth to a story. The Night Circus, for example, is a stunning tale of magical realism. In On The Other Side the magic felt disjointed, as though it was just thrown in to give the novel a genre. The parts set after Evie’s death worked mostly, it was a quirky exploration of the afterlife. The magic should have stopped there, not continued into the living world. It was so random and illogical that I often thought I was just reading a unique and rather elaborate metaphor, only to realise that no, her paintings actually did turn to glass, she did in fact take her heart out of her chest and bury it, and it did then grow into a weird tree. The magical elements, like a lot of the plot, just didn’t work, and they really let the book down.
My next big issue was with the characters. Not only did they all have ridiculous names that were rather unimaginative and repetitive (Evie Snow, Vincent Winters, Sonny Shine), but they were absurdly two-dimensional. The two main characters were just Carrie and her boyfriend, Pete. The only difference (and I mean the only) was that Evie couldn’t sing, whereas Carrie is a professional musical theatre actress. Whilst I understand drawing on what you know in writing, the obvious plucking of their relationship into a fiction world was a bit dull. Although many (ok, three) of the characters were LGBT, it just felt like that was slapped on to make the book match her YouTube brand (which is very open, and directed mainly towards younger viewers). It was nice that the characters’ sexuality wasn’t their only feature, but the lack of integration into the rest of the plot made it feel clunky and deliberately inclusive, rather than a natural evolution. I despised the characters I was supposed to dislike (such as Evie’s mother, who was quite possibly just every archetype for “evil mother” rolled into one), but I didn’t particularly like any of the characters I was meant to like either. They just fell flat, and weren’t able to hold up the slightly shady plot.
The one positive was that the writing itself was lovely, but it wasn’t enough to save this book.
Maybe, one day, I’ll give Carrie’s next novel, All That She Can See (another book with a lovely premise) a chance, but for now, I feel as though I’d once again be disappointed by a poorly executed example of a wonderful idea, that was only put up on a pedestal because of her existing audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate all YouTuber books just because they were written by YouTubers. But On The Other Side isn’t best-seller quality, and it doesn’t deserve that title. It’s not brilliant. It’s barely even mediocre.