the bit in betweenIn Brief:

There are laughs, there is whimsy, there is romance, there is death and a hilarious American called ‘Rick’. Pigeonhole this book at your own risk.

Details, details:

Pub date: 01/08/2015
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 272
Price: $29.99

What the back cover says:

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.
Inexplicably.
Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

My reflections:

What is this book?

Is it rom-com? A coming-of-age story? A whimsical piece of literary fiction that borders on magical realism? A love letter to the Solomon Islands? A serious comment on the inevitability of our existence between birth and death (ie the bit in between)?

It is actually all of those things. And Claire Varley pulls it all off brilliantly.

Take the beginning, for instance, where Varley begins with some lyrical and profound words on the nature of life..

‘Tides come and go, and if you know how to read them you can predict what will happen.’

Before slipping into an almost slapstick scene of farcical proportions where our two young lovers meet, over vomit, organic almonds, and matching yellow ‘I heart Malaysia’ t-shirts.

‘The yellow brings out the vomit in your hair,’ he replied. She smiled and went to tuck her shoulder-length brown hair behind an ear before her hand struck a chunk of vomit and she withdrew it quickly. ‘I thought I got it all,’ she muttered to herself.’

No wonder this manuscript was rescued from a slush pile.

There were points in this book where I literally laughed out loud. My six year old was perturbed.

‘What’s so funny, Mummy?’

I tried explaining but couldn’t do the scene justice. The magic is in the writing. Varley has a sense of the ridiculous that absolutely tickled my funny bone.

Maybe it was the ‘meta-ness’ of the plot-line where Oliver aspires to write a great book..

‘He wanted it to be revolutionary. But also funny. And moving. And packed with underlying life lessons. A bestseller and literary phenomenon and something Oprah would have included in her book club. So far all he had written today was a paragraph detailing Colonel Drakeford’s tendency to wear white knee socks with sandals. It was a good start.’

At times, the act of writing creatively can look and feel like a very silly business; how very dare anyone aspire to change the world simply by tapping words onto a screen from a completely make-believe place?

But as The Bit in Between shows, writing can be the most insidious bit of silliness, for it is in that space we reveal ourselves, and others, for who we really are.

For more info, visit Pan Macmillan

3 Comments

  • Deborah
    Posted 29/08/2015 9:25 pm 0Likes

    I loved the quote about the ending but forgot to use it in my review (I’m bad when it comes to hardcopies as I don’t make notes as I go, whereas I do with eBooks!)…

    I can’t remember now what it was – something Oliver said about a book’s ending and Alison reflects on it re a book she’s reading.

    (I’ve let my mother borrow the book so can’t look it up either!)

    Great review and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • cassandrahamer@hotmail.com
      Posted 31/08/2015 1:16 pm 0Likes

      Hi Deb, I had a quick look through and I think the quote you’re talking about is the one where Oliver says that a book’s ending constitutes the writer’s advice to the world. Is that the one? BTW – I think it’s true.. Cass

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