on 24 May 2013
Having grown up in Pembrokeshire this novel, set in bordering Carmarthenshire, had an additional resonance for me. I loved the descriptions of the setting & coastline, the skies & the sea which really brought it to life without being overly flowery. It's a special place that really gets under your skin, becomes part of you & calls you back & this novel captures that perfectly. The characters are so deeply drawn, I found my feelings for Eve & Theo especially, changing as the story unfurled. Jonathan is entirely plausible, I could empathise with his initial shallowness, growing frustration & ultimate pain & longed for Maria to rescue him. This is Morgan McCarthy's debut novel & it left me wanting more. I feel she is an exceptionally skilled writer with a very bright future ahead.
on 25 May 2012
Morgan McCarthy is a classy writer. She captivated me with a simply beautiful mix of descriptive passages, touches of humour and great story telling. There's plenty of drama in this book, but it unfolds gently as you get to know and empathise with the main characters rather than hitting you over the head with it. This is literary fiction that is intelligent without trying to be clever. It just invites you to become immersed in the unusual world Jonathan and Theo inhabit and to end up caring deeply about their story.
on 11 August 2012
What a beautifully written book. McCarthy writes in a style reminiscent of Margaret Atwood. The simple and beautifully written prose weaves a tale of damaged souls. The figurative language expertly brings to life characters which are believable and lovable. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves stories where an authors paints majestically with words. I hope this isn't the last we hear from this début author who has clearly mastered her craft.
on 7 May 2015
A beautifully told story of Jonathan and his sister Theo who grew up in a country mansion, they roam the gardens in endless summers, devoted to each other. Their mother is conspicuous by her absence, preferring her children to be watched over by a useless nanny, so they pretty much look after themselves. This all changes when their dynamic, beautiful Grandmother, Eve, comes home. Suddenly they have an adult to look up to. The novel follows them into adulthood where we see the results of their childhood in stark reality.
Another wonderful story by Morgan McCarthy, I reviewed Strange Girls and Ordinary Women in March and loved it. This is her debut novel and it's just as good.
I read this on holiday and I was totally transported, the story enveloped me, the characters were so real. The way the story leaps from present day back to their childhood tantalises the reader as we can see the result but want to know how the characters got there.
The only character I didn't like was Eve, the glamorous granny, she felt a bit flat to me. I would have liked to know more about her, to explain her decisions. However Jonathan's and Theo's characters more than made up for her, I felt I really got to know them. I especially loved Theo, she was so loving and warm and the journey of her character felt so natural.
I really enjoyed this story and once I got into it, I found it difficult to put down. Large parts of it are set in an area I know well - the historic Welsh town of Carmarthen, and Llansteffan, a coastal village with close links to legendary writer Dylan Thomas.
This book's one major flaw is that the opening chapter is difficult to get into; written in the first person, it is very clear that something truly devastating has happened to Jonathan Anthony - but what? At first, I put the book to one side and decided that I wasn't really bothered with finding out. Fortunately I persevered, because the tale that unfolded was intriguing, drawing in some well-formed characters.
Jonathan himself emerges as a flawed hero, recounting a difficult childhood amongst extraordinary privilege, desperately trying to protect his fragile and innocent sister Theo from herself. Their mother Alicia is a totally selfish, self-absorbed alcoholic, relying on staff to care for her children until her mother unexpectedly appears back on the scene.
Theo is both exasperating and likeable, befriending tramps who see her, rightly, as the softest touch for miles, completely unable to function in the working world and absolutely reliant on the powerful influence of her grandmother, the hotelier and former American politician, Eve Anthony, to land her jobs.
It becomes clear that there are dark secrets lurking in the background, but Eve flatly denies the existence of anything that might cloud the image she wishes to portray.
Theo constantly holds to the idea that her father is not dead, as she and Jonathan have been told...
Jonathan focuses on his studies and later his growing career in architecture, unable to form lasting relationships as his heart is with the remote and apparently unavailable Maria. The story works its way to the tragedy that left Jonathan in the state in which we first find him at the opening .. and then through this, to a more satisfying ending.
There are some minor flaws chiefly in the Welsh setting- the character of the Welsh housekeeper, Mrs Williams, is so stereotypical, a gossipy, 'look-you' type of woman and the local population is not portrayed sympathetically in general. The local pub with its unfriendly landlord is called Glas Dwr - Blue Water. Except that in Welsh it should be Dwr Glas, as adjective follows noun normally in the language... Morgan McCarthy clearly knows the Carmarthen area but doesn't appear to have engaged with it or with Welsh culture - which in essence, is true of her main characters too.
But that's a minor quibble and one that may not upset too many readers. I didn't let it blind me to a good story holding the promise of more good stories to come from this writer.
on 15 April 2012
We first meet Jonathan Anthony in hiding, having run away from something that has to do with his family and gradually we find out what it is. The book switches from the present, back to childhood and early adulthood with glimpses of earlier times in his family's recent history.
This is a very strange upbringing, there is a lot of money but the life is very empty, the children's mother is in a perpetual alcoholic haze and therefore only present in body, the staff are uninterested and the villagers mistrustful or resentful.
In the first half, I felt the pacing was spot on and, just as I felt I wanted to go to a different time, I was taken there. I did feel it meandered in the middle section - Jonathan's student days, his move into work and his love life were shapeless but I did feel it dragged a little in showing this. The writing was at its strongest when he was at the family home in Wales, or with his sister Theo anywhere, which is at the heart of the story and the author's command of the story never failed there.
The writing style is elegant and very readable.
There is a mystery here but this is not a mystery story in the sense of someone finding clues and the truth gradually being revealed. The interest in the story lies in the effect not knowing had on Jonathan and his sister and this is very well done indeed. The adult Joanathan remembering his early childhood could have had a bit too much hindsight but the unsettling and unexplained events in the rather odd house he grew up in ring true as seen through a child's eyes.
This is Morgan McCarthy's debut novel and it is definitely a solid tale. If this is how she carries on writing then she is sure to be someone we hear from again in the future as a top notch writer. This tale takes place over a period of twenty years, from when Jon and Theo are children, through to when they are older.
Living on an estate in Wales, brother and sister Jon and Theo are quite lonely, there mother is a drinker and takes tranquilisers. Left to their own devices they are also lonely as the local Welsh children don't mix with them. Money is no problem though, as their grandmother, Eve, is a very wealthy woman, and their great-grandad was a famous explorer who found Mayan artifacts.
Jon and Theo have always been brought up to believe that their father is dead. Their parents got a divorce, and sometime after that their father was killed in an accident in Australia. When their mother is taken to hospital, Eve comes back to the family home. Jon is a normal child, but Theo is a bit flaky and isn't all their. With the tales and tradgedies that they are told as children the two grow up, but are what they have been told strictly true?
Theo starts taking drugs and since a child swears that she has seen the ghost of their father, but has she? As they grow up and Eve becomes much older cracks start to show and little bits of truth starting coming through, but will it be too much for Jon and Theo to take in?
Don't get the wrong impression and think this book is a mystery though, because as the reader we can see quite early on the lies that the two children have been told. Told through the character of Jon this gives us his view of what happens, and how the family alters, and how his sister, who isn't the most stable person, rather like her mum, may be a bit simple minded in some ways, but probably knows more that Jon does. Slow and steadily paced this is a very good read, that will ultimately I am sure be picked up by reading groups to discuss.
Opening in 2008 this tells the sad story of Jonathan Anthony and his relationships with the women in his life: his mysterious, energetic grandmother; his faded, cold mother; the elusive, beautiful Maria and, most of all, his luminous sister Theo. The blurb and some of the reviews which talk about menace, gothic and psychological suspense surprise me as this is, at heart, a coming-of-age story as Jonathan finally learns to understand himself and the pressures which have made him what he is, before he can move forward into the rest of his life.
We follow Jonathan from 1988 when he is eight and his sister Theo seven, to 2008, though the story and timeline isn't a linear one, and we do skip between the 2008 present and the past (1988, 2000, 2005).
My overall impression of this book is that it is a debut by a hugely promising author - but that it doesn't quite hang together with the emotional coherency for which it aims. Theo, in particular, is a brilliantly written character with her quirky vision of the world and her radiant personality which we know, with deep foreboding, rests on a kind of instability that just isn't sustainable. The childhood world, too, of the children is wonderfully evoked - though some of the practicalities like the estate in Wales with `maids' feels strangely out of time for 1988 (Did anyone have a job as a `maid' in 1988?).
Less successful is the characterisation of the other characters: the children's grandmother Eve, their mother Alicia, Jonathan's best friends Felix and Sebastian all feel oddly one-dimensional. And it's incredible that Jonathan doesn't simply put his famous family name into Google and get a potted history of his past far earlier.
So there are inconsistencies and failings in this book but, overall, it shows enormous promise in vision and beautiful writing - Morgan McCarthy is definitely someone that I'll watch out for and read again.
It's been a long time since I finished a book in 3 days - certainly not a book as literary as this, with the thinnest of plots, but I found The Other Half of Me absolutely enthralling: at times, almost impossible to put down. Not a great deal happens, the plot is slight, but beautifully detailed and wonderfully told.
Brother and sister, Jonathan and Theo, grow up at Evendon, a lovely house by the sea, where money is abundant but love is absent. Their father is missing and presumed dead. Their mother is just a vague presence who floats through life with a drink in her hand. The locals and the household staff despise them. They have no friends, only each other.
Everything changes when their mother is hospitalised and their grandmother Eve arrives to take over the care of the house and the children. Eve Anthony is famous, glamorous, extremely rich. As the children grown up, the passage of their lives is made easy and smooth by their grandmother's money and seemingly endless list of influential contacts. Jon and Theo's future should be rosy, but of course, it isn't. Too many secrets, too many lies: it soon gradually becomes clear to Jonathan why his mother and her brother hate Eve. Theo, unable to hate, is slowly tipped into madness. From the start, you sense that she is doomed.
Eve admires Jonathan as a chip off her block, but is constantly exasperated by Theo - as was I. I'm sure we were meant to adore her as Jonathan does; to be charmed by her kind naïveté and helpless absent-mindedness, but I've known too many Theos and I couldn't love her, she is silly and childish and extremely annoying. I frequently wanted to slap her. Poor Jonathan constantly angsts - has he been unkind to Theo by asking her to grow up and take responsibility for her own life? I doubt if I could have been half so patient as Jonathan - or even Eve. Theo strikes me as someone who should be institutionalised for her own good and everyone else's sanity.
My irritation with Theo didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book - far from it, she was the spice of it, Jonathan and Eve alone would have been too solid a dish for my taste. And, as I seem to keep saying, not a great deal happens in TOH, but the tragic progress is deliciously compelling and the writing is gorgeous - poetic, but lightly done: only just short of perfect. I couldn't put the book down but dreaded its end. It's been a long, long time I was so absolutely absorbed in the world of a book as I was with Jonathan and Theo, Eve and Evendon.
on 20 May 2012
I found this easy to read but so well written - a mood or a scene created in a few words. The book was subtle and explored the effect of family secrets on Theo and Jonathan, as the "answers" were not spoon fed and, like real life, some can only be given your best guess. It was believable as were the characters. I enjoyed it and am pleased to have found a new author and am looking forward to the next book!