Six-year-old Helen and Ellie are identical twins, but Helen is smarter, more popular, and their mother's favorite. Ellie, on the other hand, requires special instruction at school, is friendless, and is punished at every turn.
Until they decide to swap placesjust for fun, and just for one dayand Ellie refuses to switch back. Everything of Helen's, from her toys to her friends to her identity, now belongs to her sister. With those around her oblivious to her plight, the girl who used to be Helen loses her sense of self and withdraws into a spiral of behavioral problems, delinquency, and mental illness. In time, she's not even sure of her memory of the switch.
Twenty-five years later, she receives a call that threatens to pull her back into her sister's dangerous orbit. Will she take this chance to face her past?
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Ann Morgan is the author of The World Between Two Covers, based on her year-long journey around the world via books from every country. She continues to blog about her adventures with world literature at ayearofreadingtheworld.com. Morgan's writing has also appeared in The Independent, The Financial Times, The Scotsman, BBC Culture, and The Guardian, among many others. She lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
By Ann Morgan
BLOOMSBURYCopyright © 2016 Ann Morgan
All rights reserved.
Ribbons of sound. The bright streamer of a child's giggle, an ice-cream van's flourish swirling like a sparkler in the gloom, the chatter of a long-finished game. Birdsong spiralling, then stiffening and falling to the earth, congealing into something hard and metallic, measured out in mechanical portions, a harsh trilling. Again. A pause. Again.
Smudge opened her eyes and squinted. A ray of light thrust its way in past the tie-dyed sarong tacked up over the window, to pick out the dead flies, plastic bags, the vodka bottle lying on its side. Morning, was it? No, afternoon – always afternoon when the sun came in at that angle. The day almost spent.
Pens, matches, tampons strewn across the table. A half-smoked cigarette burrowing into the plastic veneer, puckering it like a scar. A toothbrush lying on its side next to an ice-cube tray with magenta and purple paint clogged in its recesses like dried blood.
From the armchair, she stared up at the canvas propped on the shelf above the broken gas fire. Canvas was pushing it: it was really a piece of newspaper pinned to the seat of a chair. Still, it had been enough last night, or the night before – or whenever it was – to get her up and buzzing, charging about the flat in search of anything that would help her create the colours and shapes surging in her brain. She wished she could recapture it now, the inspiration that rolled in like a breaker only to smash against the sea wall of her consciousness and drain away, pulling her with it to drift on a grey ocean, leaving only wreckage behind. The canvas testified to what had happened – the bright squabble of colours in the top-right corner giving way to a thin wash and then nothing. A headline about a pensioner being mugged in the alleyway up the road.
The absorbing idea was gone, but the voices that usually crowded in to fill any blank spaces in her mind – muttering and snarling – were still, for now. Good. That was something. That was something, at least.
She rubbed a hand over her eyes and the ringing started again. The phone, she thought dully. Hadn't they disconnected it yet? There must be more than twenty final warnings in the drift of mail in the hallway.
She listened to the ringing unmoved. No point answering. It would just be one of those recorded messages. That, or the Samaritans phoning to see how she was, unaware that tomorrow she'd be calling another branch with a different story.
Or maybe the ringing was just in her mind. She wouldn't put it past her mashed-up brain to pull some kind of new stunt like that.
She squinted up at the ripped calendar on the wall. What day was it anyway? Hard to keep track. Before you knew it, Thursday had muscled in where Tuesday was supposed to be and you were staring down the barrel of Friday. And meanwhile some bastard like Monday went droning on for weeks. The calendar was giving nothing away. Not Giro day, anyhow. Never that. She drew a deep, snagging breath and her stomach gurgled.
Be good to get some food inside her. She levered herself to her feet and the floor fell away like a trap door on a theme-park ride. Fireworks exploded on the edge of her vision and she gripped the chair. ('Indisputable!' sniped a voice somewhere inside her brain.) Steady.
Out into the corridor, ragged nails trailing over the peeling wallpaper, the kitchen doorway belching the smell of sour milk. Inside: the plump plastic bags, tops tied, ranged across the floor and surfaces like barn hens. Rubbish cascading from the bin, the sink piled.
Smudge opened the fridge door and the phone trilled again, making her lose her footing. She put out a hand to save herself and caught it in a wire, dragging something off the wall as she sat down heavily amid the rubbish bags. The ceiling gaped above her, a heavy weight being hoisted the better to fall on her head.
Then she heard another voice, this time seeming to come from somewhere outside her.
'Ellie?' it said in a stern, tinny tone. 'Ellie?'
She looked around. Apart from the dripping of the kitchen tap, the room was still. She clapped her hand over her eyes, feeling the rasp of cracked skin against her face, and shook her head, trying to dislodge the hallucination.
'Ellie?' said the voice again.
She turned and peered through the gap in her fingers. The sound was coming from the phone receiver dangling next to her. Cautiously she reached for it and held it to her ear.
'Ellie,' said the phone, 'it's Mother.' And then, 'Look, I haven't got time to play silly buggers. I know this is your number. Nick gave it to me.'
A silence. Above her, its door still open, the fridge began to beep.
'All right. If that's the way you want it,' continued the phone. 'I'm ringing about Helen.' A sigh. 'Well, there's been an accident and I'm afraid she's in a coma. There. The others thought I should tell you. Left to myself, I probably wouldn't have b — But there we are. At least this way you won't hear about it first on the news.'
Around the kitchen dark shapes were stirring, unfurling themselves like monstrous, poisonous blooms. The voices were snickering, getting ready to rush her. She felt numb and powerless before them.
'Needless to say, we're all pretty cut up about it this end,' said the phone. 'Horace is beside himself. Richard's put in for compassionate leave.'
The shapes were moving towards her, billowing like smoke, curling across the polystyrene ceiling tiles as a prickling sensation worked its way up her arms. She tried to move but the feeling gripped her tighter, its fidgeting fingers edging their way up towards her neck. Panic beat in the rhythm of the fridge's beep.
'We're all spending every hour we can at the hospital,' continued the phone. 'And of course there's a lot of media attention.'
Another pause and then, angrily, 'Don't you have anything to say?'
The darkness was nearly upon her, stifling, choking, stars prickling on the edge of her vision. She swallowed, took a deep breath and gripped the phone, blinking.
('Whickering,' carped a voice inside her mind. 'Reprehensible.')
Smudge closed her eyes and took a deep breath. 'I'm afraid you've got the wrong number,' she said, laying the words out one by one like coins on the counter of the offie.
Then the receiver dropped as the clamouring rushed in to claim her. She slumped back among the bags. A carton began to leak on to her shoulder, but she did not feel it. There was only the hubbub inside her head and, somewhere beyond it, the light from the fridge playing on her eyelids like sunshine, its beeps mimicking those of a lorry reversing long ago in a suburban street one summer's afternoon.
Excerpted from Beside Myself by Ann Morgan. Copyright © 2016 Ann Morgan. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn't put this book down. Fantastic story telling! I recommend it all book lovers.
I enjoyed reading this book from the first page to the last. I found that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to make the twins behave the way they did.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A set of twins that at an early age play a game and switch places which I imagine most twins do, but one twin decides she likes the swap and convinces everyone that she is now not herself and continues to live her life as the other twin. This sets crazy things in motion. Told in alternating chapters between the past when the switch happens and the present when a twin has been in an accident and is in coma and the other twin is pulled back into her life. First, let me say that this is told from one point of view and the reader is basically told that she is untrustworthy and I am not usually a fan of untrustworthy narrators and this book proved my point. I spent more time in the book guessing as to if what she was saying was truth and even just trying to figure out what she was trying to tell me then I like to do actually just reading the story.
"You're locked into this life; your body is like a straitjacket, binding you to the world." It all started as a simple game. Helen and Ellie, young twin sisters, decided to play a trick on their mother. Helen, the smarter and more popular of the two, suggested that they trade wardrobes and pretend to be each other. The plan worked brilliantly. Their mother did not notice the switch and the sisters successfully embodied their counterpart. But there was one major flaw in the game. Ellie really liked being Helen. So much so, in fact, that she refused to go back to being herself. Fast forward many years and Helen, now going by the name Smudge, is a woman trapped in a life that was never supposed to be hers. With Ellie (Hellie) excelling in her role as Helen, Smudge is trapped in the downward spiral of her sister's underachieving world. Unnoticed and unloved by her family, Smudge drifts through her life with resent and a general disregard for her own well being. All of that changes when Smudge receives word that her sister has gone into a coma. After years of no contact with her family, Smudge is thrust back into the world that she's tried so hard to escape. Can she finally convince her family that their whole lives have been a built around a childhood deceit? Is is too late to put the past behind her and live her life as the person she was born as? In her debut novel Beside Myself, author Ann Morgan writes a dark and haunting psychological thriller that explores the importance of personal identity. The situation is deeply disturbing and could easily have become laughably unbelievable. Fortunately, Morgan layers each of her characters with a tinge of sadness that brings an authenticity to the entire narrative. The emotional character arcs are weaved into the quick moving thriller, making the novel an engaging and easy read. Beside Myself is a novel that fires on all cylinders and marks a promising start to its author's career.
This book left me emotionally drained after finishing it! It was one of the most intense reads that I have finished in awhile. Heck, I finished it a couple of days ago now and I'm still thinking about it! This was one of those books where you just can't quite believe the premise. How do two twin girls switch places and no one ever realizes the truth? The author took this storyline and made it work in such a way that I was absolutely just blown away by this book. It was horrible to read about at times seeing what Smudge (this is what Hellen who turns into Ellie calls herself as a grown woman) went through after the two girls switched places. This wasn't always an easy read and was much darker than I expected. But it was so compelling and I just could not set this book down. My Friday night was basically devoted to reading and finishing this book because I just HAD to see how it was all going to end. What I loved most about this book was that there were two different story lines. One was the present and dealt with Smudge's current life. This viewpoint was so completely interesting to read about because I could never quite get a grip on her actions. She had that feel of an unreliable narrator that I just adore so much. The second story line was all about the past and focused on the switch and the years after the girls switched places. Of the two this really felt the darkest and I found it all so very horrifying. There were times I just had to set this book down because I was so completely invested in this book. I had to breathe and remind myself that this was just a story. I also couldn't help but wonder how things would have been if the girls hadn't decided to play a game one day and switch places with each other. That unknown was haunting and deeply troubling for me as the reader. The ending of this book wasn't at all what I expected but thinking back on it, I would have to say it worked. I really don't think that it could have ended any other way (and I won't say more than that for fear of spoiling it for others). This was a reading experience that I won't be forgetting about any time soon and an author to watch! All I really can say after reading this one is" WOW!" Overall, I really enjoyed this book which feels weird to say when it was such a disturbing read at times. I connected to the characters and the book just really came alive for me. I don't know how else to explain it. I loved how this book made me question and wonder about life experiences in general and how the little things affect us. The best way to describe this book is troubling....troubling and terrifying but so completely readable. What a book! This is an author that I will definitely be reading more of! Highly recommended! Bottom Line: A haunting read that left me thinking about it for days! Disclosure: I received a copy of this book thanks to the publisher as part of a TLC book tour.
Beside Myself is my first DNF in… probably forever. Usually I struggle through a book, no matter what, and I keep on going. But here, I just couldn’t. Several things worked against this book, and I’ll list them all below. I did read the ending just to see where it would lead (I had half-expected that end) but I quit after fifty pages. Let’s start with the good. The plot is unique, and original. Two twin sisters, one the leader, the other the follower, and they switch positions. Helen becomes Ellie and Ellie becomes Helen. Except when the joke is over, Ellie doesn’t want to switch back, and Helen is stuck taking on the role of Ellie, who everyone laughs at, who is slow, who Mom is always angry at. With Mom’s new boyfriend coming into play, things don’t get easier for Helen either, and no one seems to have a clue that they switched places. Even when she tells them, no one believes her. The book alternates between present and past. In the past, we see Helen and Ellie as they grow up. In the present, Smudge, as Helen has started calling herself, lives the life of an addict. Everything she knows has fallen apart. Meanwhile, Ellie – posing as Helen – has become quite famous. A lot of people loved this book, and I understand why. The plot is unique, and the author’s writing is descriptive and lyrical. It’s just not for me. On to the bad. First of all, the writing style. I’ve seen descriptions that run several paragraphs long in this book and before I figured out what the author was trying to say, I was almost a page further. It’s page after page filled with these descriptions that are beautiful writing but significantly slow down the narrative. I had to skim pages just to find the plot, it was hidden under so many descriptions. Next up, the story. It annoyed me to no end. I had to stop reading primarily because of this – my heart beat was going way too high, and I was ready to pull my hair out. I was so annoyed at EVERYONE in this book. At the mother figure in particular. How can you not tell your own children apart? And then, with that ending, I hated her even more. I was annoyed with the way everyone treated Ellie and later Helen. If a child, part of a twin set you can’t keep apart, keeps saying she’s not the twin you think they are, then someone, at least one adult, will grow concerned. It would be so easy to fix this! Blood testing. DNA. Handprints. Or if Ellie is really so slow as the book wants us to believe, have them both do a test and see how the scores work – in that scenario, Helen would’ve done a lot better than Ellie. Poor Helen. I felt so sorry for her. She was so helpeless, and this annoyed me so much. I was going to freak out if I kept on reading, because the scenario made no sense. Not even Helen’s friends recognize her? Some friends they are. It’s very hard to believe no one will figure it out. Also, a thriller? I don’t really see any thriller aspects in the book. It’s mostly about mental health, and Helen’s struggle. Ultimately, a lot of people liked this book (just check the Goodreads reviews, lost of 4 and 5 stars) but I couldn’t finish it. It annoyed me too much, and I don’t want to waste my time reading a book that annoys me to no end. I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.