There were two main draws that lead me to read Beside Myself. The first was the blurb – twin sisters who swap places, only for one to refuse to swap back. The idea hooked me, and it was greatly compounded by this being the first new psychological thriller I’ve picked up in eons that didn’t tout itself as being yet another Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both good books – ones that I enjoyed! But that doesn’t mean I want to spend the rest of my life reading their ilk over and over again. And so, Beside Myself.
I must admit, even with the above in mind, I still wasn’t expecting a great deal from this book. I thought it would be a fairly throw-away, forgettable thriller – something to fill a few hours on holiday then move on from. I was wrong on that score. I thought there’d be a bit of twinly drama and angst, but instead was treated to an in-depth examination of identity, sense of self and hereditary mental illness. The main character, Helen (or Ellie, or Smudge, or any number of other names depending on which point you’re at) is diagnosed as having bipolar disorder in her teens, and experiences a series of dizzying highs and devastating lows, which Morgan captures magnificently. Once such high features the sentence “You are an ocean trying to pour through a tap and all you can do is open your moth and let the words run”, which resonated with me deeply.
I wasn’t expecting this book to make me feel so much, but it did, it really did. Unfortunately, those feelings were almost uniformly negative – Smudge’s spirals drew outrage, unease, discomfort and dread in equal measure, and even reading her happier phases was constantly overshadowed by impending doom and gloom. On that score, it wasn’t always easy to read. I found the final third slower than the rest of the book, as Smudge reached adulthood and began to settle into a routine. At this point I turned back to it less frequently, knowing every time I did that I would be in for an upsetting read. Eventually, I finished it in a sprint at 3am, and while it ends on a hopeful note, my overall takeaway from it is a lingering sense of upset. It certainly packs a punch.