The In-Between by Barbara Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups
I’m going to discuss the plot in depth, but the nothing more than what the synopsis already tells us, though it might be slightly spoilery, it won’t be enough to hide the review. Quotations subject to change as this is an uncorrected copy from Netgalley. I finished this a few of days ago, and I’m still struggling to figure out how to explain this book. Here goes nothing.
The story is about Ellie, and basically, her descent into madness. We never know if it’s mental illness she suffers from, something paranormal, or just exacerbated hormones. I realize how that sounds, but I still have no idea, even though I feel as though her issue was mental health related. Is she schizophrenic, bipolar, multiple personalities, anxiety disorder, head trauma, or perhaps a combination of several of these? It’s hard to say because Ellie is an extremely unreliable narrator; she’s supposed to be, the entire story is told by means of her journal entries, so limited information is the way it goes.
We know right away that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness because she tells us about her attempted suicide, and how her parents are moving so they can all have a fresh start. Before they can make it to their new home they are involved in a fatal car crash, though who dies isn’t clear for some time, if ever really. At first it was her mother that died, and her father is completely unable to move forward. Was it severe depression that was affecting her, because we find out that her father was depressive as well.
Worse even than when I tried to die. It’s like all those other bouts of depression were just tremors, little quakes. Losing Mom is too big. The world is crashing down and all he can do is stand and watch, alone and terrified, powerless to go on living.
I’m here, but I’m not Mom. I can’t talk to him the way she talked to him.
As we watch father and daughter struggle to come to terms with their loss, Ellie meets Madeline Torus, and instantly has a connection with her. Madeline just waltzed in to Ellie’s room wanting to listen to music and hang out, but Ellie didn’t find this odd, no, in fact she basked in the attention from this girl. She admired the way Madeline dressed, the way she could dance, the way she held herself, and most importantly Ellie loved the way she felt when she was with Madeline. The line between friendship, lover(?), and obsession is blurred between these two for the entire book even when (view spoiler)[ we find out that Ellie believes Madeline to be her twin sister who disappeared in utero (hide spoiler)]. Let me share a sampling of quotes to give you an idea of what I mean here:
My purpose is clear. There’s a reason why I survived the accident. Her name is Madeline Torus.
But she’s safe now. I would never hurt her, not in a million years. Not my Madeline. My stone angel. I will always be hers. She will always be mine. Forever and ever.
[…] I’ll do my homework and watch TV and then take a pill so Madeline and I will become one.
Madeline kisses me on the lips. Not like a boy. Closer. We are meant to be forever.
After she met Madeline and tried to deal with the fact that her father is unable to care for her, or himself, suddenly things change, and it’s not her mother who had died in the crash, but rather her father. She was suffering from head trauma. I had a hard time believing that this was “real” life because I couldn’t tell what was real and wasn’t anymore, or ever really.
Regarding her mental illness, if that is even what’s wrong with her, there was no healthy resolution. She was forced into therapy when her mom found her after she had been cutting, apparently severely, but the help didn’t seem to really help her. I didn’t feel that Ellie went through any kind of change, or ever recognized that she had a problem. I think the story worked the way she left it, other than the very end, but it would have been nice to see Ellie become healthy, well, healthier, in the end. I was left wondering if that’s what it felt like to suffer from extreme psychotic disorders, and it was frightening and depressing.
The strangeness in this book was both an asset and a hindrance for me. I generally like my answers, but I also really like creepy and dark, and that’s part of what has held me back from trying to review this. On one hand it’s everything I look for in a book: grey, creepiness, dark, twisted, and uncomfortable. On the other hand it’s ambiguity was almost too much for me.
I think this is a really strong debut; the writing captured the voice of a disturbed girl with perfection, and the subject was fascinating, if a bit hard to suffer through. If you like a story that makes you uncomfortable, and has a serious dose of creepy, then you will probably like this.
The In-Between by Barbara Stewart
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups
Sometimes a great idea is not enough.
Let me ask you: do you rate logically after weighing up all the literary pros and cons of a book and assessing its creativity and originality? Or do you rate emotionally based on your own personal reaction to a book? You see, I find it difficult to do anything but the latter. And I do appreciate that this book has a lot to offer. It’s crept rather quietly onto the goodreads scene out of nowhere and is already making waves on Kirkus and in the early GR reviews. I can see why. The idea is genius and, as I became more aware of what the author was doing, I found myself pleading with the book at every turn to become a new favourite. Sadly, though, I think this is a fantastic idea that fails on the execution. Only time will tell if I’m in the minority.
The real question is: how many points do you earn for originality? Especially when enjoyment was scarce? I found this story to be incredibly dry in its telling, lacking any depth of emotion to keep me invested in the journey of the characters. I like my characters. They are possibly the most important thing for me in a novel and my interest quickly dies if I don’t care about them. And this book more than most relies on the reader’s desire to find out what is going on. The ambiguity of the novel should be a driving force, pushing you onwards on your quest for answers, and yet it was a barrier for me that prevented me forming a connection to any of the characters. Or perhaps it was a lack of character connection that made me uninterested in finding out the answers… who knows? Chicken or the egg.
But the idea. WOAH, the idea. This book does something I love. It questions the nature of reality, mental illness and the supernatural. It makes you unsure of what is real and unsure of who is alive and who is dead. Is Madeline a ghost? Or a product of Elanor’s imagination? And, in the end, what’s the difference? It suggests the possibility that mental illness could actually be a blurring of worlds – is “crazy” merely what happens when people straddle the line between this world and the next? Ellie’s story is nothing if not creative. It all starts when Ellie, her parents and her cat are in a car accident. They were moving to a smaller town for a fresh start after Ellie suffered from depression and eventually attempted suicide. The car accident is just the start of this bizarre story that leads us to question pretty much everything that happens afterwards, including the arrival of Madeline and whether or not she even exists.
The In-Between will appeal to readers who appreciate it when authors do something different. This book explores several interesting concepts and raises numerous questions. But I think it lacks a spark. A spark that interests me in the characters and the story. I feel it is not so much a novel as it is a genius concept and I’m not sure that “different” can always be called “good”. Though I finished feeling it was necessary to compliment the author’s originality, I never once experienced excitement at what the next page might hold.
I'm Emily May - a twenty-something year old book blogger from the North of England. Currently going wherever the wind or the storyline takes me. Find me on Goodreads
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