I picked this book up as part of a Neverland blog tour. It isn’t the sort of thing I normally review – because from the cover it looks like chick lit, and it’s published by Harper Collins, while I normally focus on small publishers and self publishers.
Reading The Other Life of Charlotte Evans got me thinking about how women’s writing is marketed to readers. The colour choices of the cover say to me that I should not expect real surprises or much depth. The blurb goes “A heartrendingly beautiful novel about love, family and finding your own path to happiness.” It all sounds warm, and safe and easy. I didn’t find it to be any of those things.
At the outset, Charlotte is eight weeks away from marrying her man. She’s twenty five, has her own dance studio and a massive mortgage and there’s a five year plan. They’ve got it all figured out, and are in the final stages of pinning down all those little wedding details. However, Charlotte turns out to have a lump in one of her breasts, and suddenly the rosy view looks a good deal more troubled.
What happens after that isn’t gentle, heartwarming feel good. It’s a serious exploration of the fear that comes with facing mortality in this way. There’s a hard look at the kind of strain illness, and the threat of illness puts on relationships. People struggle to understand. Charlotte no longer knows herself, her needs and priorities have just had a seismic upheaval, and all bets are off.
What further complicates things for Charlotte is that, as an adopted child, she knows nothing about her birth family, and as a consequence, nothing at all about her hereditary risks. Asking those questions is dangerous, and takes her into territory she feels guilty about and that threatens to further rock the foundations of her life.
In the eight weeks from the start of the tale to the wedding, many of the people involved in the story make mistakes and handle things badly. Fear and shock do that to a person. Communications become strained. People trying to protect each other end up shutting each other out. Suspicions grow in the silent spaces. In the harsh light created by possible sickness everything and everyone looks different, and the drunken hen weekend planned for Amsterdam looks less fun by the moment.
There were times when the author managed to make me angry with the characters – especially the finance – over their reactions. I was surprised by how much I was willing to invest in Charlotte’s predicament, and how much it mattered to me when characters started getting things right. The ending wasn’t neat and wholly comfortable, and that was excellent because it felt so much more real for being that way.
Which takes me back to how we present women’s writing. When women write about family things, health and the domestic sphere, it’s so often trivialised and treated as light weight. This is an emotionally powerful book dealing with serious issues, really it isn’t that much about the pretty pink ballet shoes at all. It makes me wonder how many other profound and powerful books are out there hiding behind fluffy looking covers, and whether I need to poke round a bit more to find them.
More about the book here – https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008221614/the-other-life-of-charlotte-evans