The Other Side of You – Salley Vickers – 7/10

“After so devastating a disappointment it would make sense to turn to a Neil”

I read one of Vickers’ previous novels in my pre-blogging days, Miss Garnet’s Angel, and remember that it was mostly about a painting of Tobit or Tobias or Toblerone or some such personage. I did remember enjoying it though. And thus I seemed to be stepping into very familiar territory with The Other Side of You, which has a simple enough narrative structure – a few days in the life of psychologist and analyst Davey McBride, in which he treats some patients and interacts with colleagues and tries to figure out why his wife is being a bit strange.

One patient proves particularly challenging, a suicide outside the normal mood of desperation and cries for help; rather a woman who had no wish to continue living. Our protagonist feels a deep affinity with Mrs Cruikshank, but she takes a frustratingly long time to open up to him. What she does yield is a passion for Caravaggio, one shared by the doctor’s mentor. And this is where Vickers shines – her narrative is a pleasant enough construct for an emotional response to a series of Caravaggio’s artworks; Dr McBride returns to the National Gallery at one point and falls in love with Caravaggio’s The Last Supper.

The novel is religious without being proselytising – Vickers engrosses us in the culture of faith, not the practice. McBride makes numerous references to the men on the road to Emmaus, a story I’ve never understood well (what is its point? That Jesus chose to reveal Himself resurrected away from the crowd? That He wanted to test their loyalty first?) and delves into the tragedy of the men who have just lost their friend and leader, rather than the joy of reunion.

*minor spoiler alert* I’m so bored with infidelity. It seems to be in every book. It’s always the slightly controversial story on the side. That’s all I’m going to say here – Vickers takes the adultery storyline quite a lot further than most, with it being the focus of both Elizabeth and Olivia’s stories. Is there no other source of drama in adult interaction? *end spoilers*

Clever writing, fascinating characters and a bridge into the art world. I want to take the book with me back to all those Roman churches The Book Accumulator dragged me around when I was 14.

Additional information:
Copy borrowed from Tooting library who are now going to fine me heavily for its late return.
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 262 pages (paperback).
Pre-order The Other Side of You from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
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4 thoughts on “The Other Side of You – Salley Vickers – 7/10

  1. Alex 14 August 2012 at 5:24 pm Reply

    I find Vickers very patchy, but Miss Garnet’s Angel and this I think are her best works. I used to regale my students with the line ‘It’s mistakes that let the light in” until they were sick of hearing it, but it is a major plank in my philosophy of life – especially when you’re teaching first year grammar to university students who have never tackled it before and are scared stiff.

  2. The Book Accumulator 14 August 2012 at 5:56 pm Reply

    OK, I must read it.

    And we must somehow find 2.5-3 days in Rome to see those churches and a couple of galleries (one of them , the Villa Borghese which you have not seen, is amazing).

  3. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting 15 August 2012 at 1:57 am Reply

    Vickers is one of my favourites, and even though there is some repetition in her work, I just find that I dive into her writing: she writes so beautifully for the ear.

    • readingwithtea 15 August 2012 at 5:18 am Reply

      she does – it’s very readable literary prose.

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