‘Beside Myself’ is Ann Morgan’s debut novel which tells the story of identical twin sisters Helen and Ellie. One day, at the age of six, they decide to play a game where they swap places for a day to fool their mother. However, troublesome Ellie enjoys taking on the role of bright and popular Helen so much that she refuses to swap back despite the real Helen’s protestations. While their true identities remain hidden, several family secrets begin to be uncovered.
‘Beside Myself’ is a book which grew on me once I decided to suspend my disbelief about the likelihood of two young girls successfully swapping places on a permanent basis without anyone realising, particularly the apparent failure of Helen and Ellie’s mother to see through their game. Told from Helen’s point of view (while everyone around her believes she is Ellie), the chapters alternate between their childhood shortly after the swap and their lives as adults which sees the real Ellie (now known as Helen) having a successful career as a television presenter while the real Helen struggles with mental illness and poverty. Much of the book is therefore very dark and Morgan portrays this aspect of the story sensitively as the serious consequences of Helen’s situation are explored in depth.
Like The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, I found it slightly misleading that ‘Beside Myself’ has been billed as a literary thriller. Even though there is the question of whether or not the twins’ real identities would ever be uncovered, the reader knows from the beginning that the swap is somehow sustained into adulthood so there was less of a sense of mystery than I had been expecting. Instead, the heart of the novel focuses on various themes surrounding different forms of identity and how it defines people and the expectations of those around them.
Overall, the premise of ‘Beside Myself’ is certainly intriguing and poses some interesting questions but I thought the story was constructed a little too conveniently at times.
Before writing her debut novel, Morgan founded a blog called A Year of Reading the World in which she set out to read a book from every country in the world from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. I’m keen to read her first non-fiction book ‘Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer’ which outlines how she undertook this challenge.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for the review copy of ‘Beside Myself’ which will be published in the UK on 14th January.