Published 14th January 2016.
Beside Myself is about identical twins, Ellie and Helen. They live with their mother only, at the beginning of the story, since their father committed suicide when they were only four years old. They might look the same, but they have very different personalities. One day they decide to play a game. They decide to pretend to be each other, just for one day. However, Ellie decides she doesn’t want to swap back. No matter how much Helen pleads with her she refuses to back down. She wants to be Helen forever. The real Helen tries her best to tell her mother (not a character I warmed to at all!) about the game, but she isn’t believed. From then on, the twins live their lives as each other and this story explores the psychological impact this has on them, throughout the rest of their childhoods and into their adult lives.
Ellie (who calls herself Smudge later on) has quite severe mental health issues. I found it quite sad that the twins weren’t close at all, for most of their lives, especially as twins generally share a strong bond. It seems like the new Helen grows into a perfect teenager, with friends and an active social life. She has no interest in including Ellie in anything she does. Ellie is left behind to stew in her frustration. She rebels against everything and everyone and doesn’t really care if she lives or dies. It’s heartbreaking to read at times. She is institutionalised in her teens and her mother makes it quite clear she won’t be welcome back home. I really sympathised with her character.
Helen on the other hand seems to be idolised. She ends up with a seemingly perfect celebrity life. A successful career, devoted husband and beautiful daughter. Ellie feels like this is the life she should have had and it has been stolen from her.
When Ellie receives a letter in the post one day she knows it’s from the real Ellie, (she recognises her writing). It is addressed to Helen Sallis. Could she finally be ready to admit the truth?
She can’t bring herself to read it at first.
Helen’s husband, Nick, tracks her down soon after. It seems that Helen was on her way to see her when she was involved in a car crash resulting in her being in a coma.
We gradually learn more about their childhood before their fathers suicide and the truth behind Ellie’s reasons for wanting to become Helen.
This isn’t the easiest of books to read given the subject matter, but I think it is very well written. I had to keep reading to find out how things turned out for Ellie. I was desperate for her to find some peace and happiness in her life.
I would highly recommend to anyone who likes a good psychological drama.
With many thanks to the author, publisher and Netgalley for my kindle copy.
Book description (via Amazon):
Helen and Ellie are identical twins – like two peas in a pod, everyone says.
The girls know this isn’t true, though: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower.
Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day.
But Ellie refuses to swap back…
And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up. Her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school, the favour of her mother and the future she had dreamed of are all gone to a sister who blossoms in the approval that used to belong to Helen. And as the years pass, she loses not only her memory of that day but also herself – until eventually only ‘Smudge’ is left.
Twenty-five years later, Smudge receives a call from out of the blue. It threatens to pull her back into her sister’s dangerous orbit, but if this is her only chance to face the past, how can she resist?
Beside Myself is a compulsive and darkly brilliant psychological drama about family and identity – what makes us who we are and how very fragile it can be.