Publisher: The Borough Press
Editions: Hardback, paperback, Kindle, E-book, Audio Book
Release date: 13 June 2019
Rating: 5 stars
Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.
At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.
And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.
When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?
This book. These words. You know how sometimes you finish a book and you actually want to hug it? That.
Before I began reading The Other Half of Augusta Hope, I had no inkling I was going to adore it so much.
In my mind it had three things stacked against it from the start:
- I was forced to read it on my phone, which is not my favourite way to experience a book.
- The synopsis (above) made me afraid it might be some kind of coming-of-age romance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not my cup of tea.
- I have been reading a lot of fast-paced genre fiction lately and thought this might not hold my attention in comparison.
I had nothing to worry about.
From the very first page, I fell in love with Augusta and her head filled with words. And her family, so ordinary and yet so vivid. And then I fell for Parfait, too, living a completely different life, so far away. I began to notice the strange echoes of similarity bouncing back and forth between them. This repetition of concepts and images and themes is one of the many joys of this novel. The letter X, butterflies, fish, a girl spinning around, dragonflies, so many, many others, all perfectly placed so you just catch them out of the corner of your eye, like little shells you want to pick up and slip into your pocket as you walk along. Secret treasures.
And the writing is wonderful. Smooth enough that you can skim effortlessly over it, yet so finely crafted that you want to linger.
But the characters are the heart of this story. Here’s Augusta:
Burundi. Burundi. Burundi. I said it so many times it stopped meaning anything. It was like the sea lapping against my mind…
For days, I went around chewing Burundi like you might chew gum. Burundi, I discovered, was a big, capacious word, and it stretched, stretched. Because Burundi meant a million things.
And here’s Parfait:
She reminded me of a bird, my mother. I loved to spot birds when I was out and about: the hoopoe, or the Malachite kingfisher, or my favourite, the Fischer’s lovebird – a little rainbow-feathered parrot which used to bathe in the stream up above our homestead.
“That bird is so…” I said.
And my father said, “Unnecessary.”
Which I suppose is what beauty is.
Yet later I found I couldn’t live without it.
The characters are so… themselves, I suppose. So real. Augusta’s mother and her father, her sister. Parfait’s parents, his brothers, the priest Victor, so many others. I felt I knew them all. I kept nodding in recognition: “Yes, that’s so like him.” “She would do that, I can just see it.”
I don’t want to say anything about the plot. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story for anyone. I’ll just tell you that there are happy events, heartbreaking events, funny parts and enough suspense to make the last quarter hard to put down.
This is Joanna Glen’s debut novel. Whatever she writes next, I’ll be reading it.
A digital A.R.C. of this novel was supplied to me by #Netgalley and #TheBoroughPress in exchange for an honest review.