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The brilliant new novel from the bestselling author of ‘Mr Golightly’s Holiday’ and ‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’.
‘There is no cure for being alive.’ Thus speaks Dr David McBride, a psychiatrist for whom death exerts an unusual draw. As a young child he witnessed the death of his six-year-old brother and it is this traumatic event which has shaped his own personality and choice of profession. One day a failed suicide, Elizabeth Cruikshank, is admitted to his hospital. She is unusually reticent and it is not until he recalls a painting by Caravaggio that she finally yields up her story.
We learn of Elizabeth Cruikshank’s dereliction of trust, and the man she has lost, through David's narration. As her story unfolds David finds his own life being touched by her account and a haunting sense that the ‘other side’ of his elusive patient has a strange resonance for him, too.
Set partly in Rome, ‘The Other Side of You’ explores the theme of redemption through love and art, which has become a hallmark of Salley Vickers’s acclaimed work. As with her other highly popular novels this is a many-layered and subtly audacious story, which traces the boundaries of life and death and the difficult possibilities of repentance.
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‘There is something rare and special about Vickers as a novelist. In exploring the connections between faith and imagination, art and redemption, religion and science in an intelligent, unusual but very readable way, she manages to touch something buried deep in all of us. It gives her work a quietly compelling quality.’ Peter Stanford, Independent
‘Kindred spirits and soul-mates are at the heart of Salley Vickers’ new novel set in a South Coast psychiatric institution and in Rome...This is a fine and multi-layered novel which suggests that suffering is necessary and that opportunities for happiness should be taken whenever offered.’ Daily Mail
‘Compelling.’ Alex Clark, Observer
‘Ferociously readable.’ Jane Shilling, Sunday Telegraph
‘Love and pain, death and life, self-knowledge and insensibility – all these big, vital themes converge in this moving, utterly engrossing novel.’ Guardian
‘The lives of the characters in this gently absorbing novel continue to resonate with the failures, possibilities, regrets and redemptions – consoled and mirrored by art – that we all endure.’ Carol Ann Duffy, Telegraph
1.What was your inspiration for The Other Side of You?
All four of the novels I’ve written grew out of subjects I’ve been mulling over for a long time. In this book, undoubtedly the situation, a psychiatrist and his patient, was born out of the years I spent working as a psychoanalyst. I always felt that between these two people trying to reach the truth about something there hovered a third entity, an unrealised invisible presence which, if things went well, ultimately resolved into a new truth. But also, psychoanalysis/therapy is about people telling their story. The analyst/therapist listens to the story and tries to make sense of it and this is not unlike writing a novel. You listen for the story and try to make sense of it. Very often, as in therapy, with writing a novel you don’t understand the meaning of the story till you reach the end.
2.In what way do you hope The Other Side of You might resonate with your readers?
It’s a book about the problem of love, principally the problem of believing that we are worthy of love and that is something most of us have trouble with. Elizabeth, the female character, for most understandable reasons, has faltered over choosing a life where she will be loved. Not recognising our meaning for another person, or their’s to us, is a common human theme. As David says, we live life forwards but we only comprehend its meaning for us backwards, so we tend to act before we understand.
3. Your novels have a strong artistic element and in this one Caravaggio is central. Can you explain why?
I naturally think in images so paintings are almost as rich a source of ideas for me as the written word. And a great painting will very often capture the essence of a great story. Caravaggio is a painter I came to late. In fact, rather as I was suspicious of Venice before I fell in love with it, I was unsure about Caravaggio before I began to write this book. Then one day I went to look again at the painting in the London National Gallery, The Supper at Emmaus, and I suddenly saw that it was answering a question in the book.
4. Why is Rome important in this novel?
Rome is the city with which Caravaggio himself most identified. He was desperately trying to make has way back to Rome when he died. And his greatest works are to be found there. But it is also a city where life and death rub shoulders. Thomas says you feel the presence of the dead there more than any other city in the world and that’s a feeling I share. The book explores the relationship between the living and the dead, the way the dead live on within us, through memory, but also through the power of art and story.
5. What are your thoughts about the recent discovery of the Caravaggio paintings found in Loches, France?
You could have knocked me down with a feather! I learned of them two days after the book went to print and the novel ends with discovery of a Caravaggio with the same title as one of the two discovered: ‘The Journey to Emmaus’. What is odder still, is that Thomas traces this painting through a collection in France. It was almost as if the novel knew something I didn’t know as I was writing it.
6. Where does your love of art come from?
I can’t answer that, any more than I can say where my love of reading comes from. It has always been a given and one I’ve been grateful for. When I write a book I can see the jacket and it’s always a painting.
7. Do you believe that art is fundamentally honest, that as Thomas says it is ‘without precepts and morals and shams’
All art should aspire to be honest and great art manages it. The greater the artist the less they will make things up, which sounds a bit of paradox since in a sense ‘making things up’ is an artist’s job. But the ‘making up’ should be without pretence and in some way reflect or recreate the real.
8. What made you decide to have a male narrator?
Originally I was going to write the book in two voices, David’s and Elizabeth’s. But I got captivated by David’s voice and in the end that was how the novel wanted to be written. The female voice didn’t convince. But the novel is called The Other Side of You so possibly I wrote the narrator with my other, ‘male’, side. And I enjoyed doing it.
9. Your characters have an interesting way of reacting. David is the doctor and Elizabeth the patient and yet in the end she appears to have more effect on him than the other way round.
I’m not sure that’s true. The response between David and Elizabeth is mutual, and that is really the point. It is only because she makes such a dent in his repressed feelings that he can help her, because she feels a correspondence with his inadequacies. But the dent also helps him because it makes him face things he has ‘lived apart from’ to use his own phrase. I say somewhere in the book that emotion is catching, good or bad. And it is the case that we catch feeling from each other as easily as diseases, but luckily sometimes the feelings are more productive than diseases and can lead to new life.
10 What are your feelings having written the book?
The period after finishing a novel is a mournful one. You miss the world you’ve created like hell, and all the characters, with whom you’ve been living intimately for years. Seeing them go off into the world is like seeing your children go off to school. The only cure is to get down to the next one quick.
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