The Other Half of Me
Morgan McCarthy
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Buy *The Other Half of Me* by Morgan McCarthy online

The Other Half of Me
Morgan McCarthy
Free Press
336 pages
September 2012
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Moving from childhood to adulthood, The Other Half of Me juxtaposes one family’s artifice with a cruel, harsh reality. McCarthy explores the nature of memory and identity, addressing our deepest secrets and worst fears. The story, about the love between a brother and his vulnerable sister reaches beyond the obvious variations of relationships, delving into the more interconnected regions of Jonathan Anthony’s troubled family history.

Jonathan is a sophisticated Englishman, unused to the vagaries of life outside of his insular, privileged world. Educated, urbane and imbued with a particular snobbery typical of his class, Jonathan grows up in the shadows of his mother, Alicia, in Evendon, a grand genteel manor house in Carmathenshire, Wales. Throughout his childhood, he’s most protective of his little sister Theo, a girl who from an early age has unique relationship with the world but always seems bewildered and scared.

In an effort to gain some sort of grip on a household in disarray, steely grandmother Eve returns, flaunting her a hugely successful career as an international business tycoon. Eve is determined to enjoy the fruits of her hard-gotten labors and charm her lovely grandchildren. Vaguely irritated by Alicia’s insistent victimhood and her “tranquil glassiness,” Eve is anxious to move on. But, like a powerful pendulum, she inadvertently contributes to Evendon’s general sense of disquiet, swinging her affections from one grandchild to another, eventually picking Jonathan as her favorite.

In this case, truth lies in the eye of the beholder. From a hotel in Southampton in 2008, Jonathon narrates the tale in a backward trajectory, deeply wary of the story that his father, Michael Caplin, left the week after Theo was born then fled to Australia, rumored to have died in an Antipodean car accident. While Eve remains tight-lipped about Michael’s fate, the wide-ranging, “richly populated gossip” of officious housekeeper Mrs. Williams can shed little light on the circumstances leading up to Michael’s disappearance.

While delicate Theo remains stuck in the past, fixating on a ghost living in a creepy, secret hidden pool which Eve was supposed to have fallen into years and years ago, Jonathan becomes a student in Cambridge and later a successful London architect. Plagued by an inability to find true love, Jonathan’s sense of time and place slips and overlaps with the “dim, penumbral past” of Evandon. Unfortunately, Theo’s fears and suspicions are tainted by her tormented childhood and drug abuse, forcing Eve to draw her own conclusions based on what she observes and hears from Jonathan.

In prose that sparkles with creativity, McCarthy shows that perspective is seen only from certain angles. She strikes a clean balance between the lovely but dense Evandon, a “silent place” that is distinctive and heavy with the expiration of many years. In her clever, beguiling pastiche of a first novel, McCarthy further explores the nexus between the natural and the artificial, a place where Jonathan’s fragmented, unpredictable memories spring out “like elastic bands.” By story's end, McCarthy finds a clever way to end the conflict in Jonathan, offering an almost dream-like solution to his problems, in turn exposing his selfish, flawed yearnings and hidden aspirations.

The heart of the novel--the complex love between Jonathan and Theo--is handled with a subtle, skillful irony. A rather fastidious, demanding read, this story is not for rapid consumption, but there are serious rewards to be found in Jonathan's exploration of the nature of loss and the moral compromises imbued in his sister's vulnerable spirit.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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