From the Outside by Clare Johnston

“Johnston takes you beyond life into death and explores the importance of self-reflection”

Genre: fiction / relationships

Plot

When millionaire and philanthropist Harry Melville dies in a car crash at the age of 44, the lives of his wife, Sarah, and his twin brother, Ben, are thrown into turmoil. Harry seemed to have everything: a close-knit family, a happy marriage, and all the trappings of wealth. Yet, as he reflects on his past from the afterlife, he recalls the unspoken and bitter jealousies between him and his brother, and the unhappiness of his wife burdened by loneliness and guilt. When Ben assumes the leading role of his brother’s charity foundation, he begins to find purpose for the first time in years. But the arrival of a talented young artist brings a series of revelations that expose Harry’s complex and dual personality. As he learns his part in the suffering of those left behind, is it too late for Harry to make amends?

Why I love it

The narrative perspective is a very intriguing element of this book as it imagines life after death. Harry not only reflects on his life and what he did, but is also able to look back at what and who he has left behind. It was quite emotional to read at times as Harry describes his sadness and regret at his past actions towards both his wife and his twin brother.

The work Harry (and later Ben) undertake at the youth centre is inspiring as they try to help teenagers and young adults find some stability in their lives and build careers for themselves. I found this to be a rather poignant and topical theme because young people today face so many worries and problems. Reading this book made me hope that there are centres like Harry’s around the country that can help young adults not only survive, but thrive.

Ben is a character whose development is astonishing. Whilst it is tragic that it takes his brother’s death to change him, he ultimately changes for the better. Drinking night after night, unable to hold down a job, and unable to stay in a relationship all transform into their positive opposites as Ben continues the work of his brother at the youth centre. It seems he is finally getting his life back on track and is able to pursue his talents, which had previously been hidden away.

The sibling relationship between Harry and Ben is a difficult and complicated one, and it is not until Harry reflects on his life that he realises how he treated his brother in their childhoods. Harry evidently regrets that he did not do more to improve their relationship. This is where Johnston’s writing is at its most powerful as it made me think about my own sibling relationship, and how we should never take such relationships for granted.

Sarah is a character who I had mixed feelings about. As a reader, my emotions were constantly changing throughout the book; one minute I was feeling sympathetic towards her in light of Harry’s death, the next I felt she was not worthy of my empathy because of her actions. Yet, her behaviour was understandable considering Harry’s detachment from her when he was alive. I think she definitely deserves admiration at the prospect of becoming a mother so soon after becoming a widow, and her determination to carry on despite her feelings of grief, guilt, and loneliness.

Overall, From the Outside is an interesting and emotional novel that has a compelling narrative perspective. With an intriguing opening chapter, Johnston draws you into her characters’ lives and considers the importance of self-reflection.

Why you should read it

If you are looking for a book that explores relationships with a twist in its narrative point of view, this will be the perfect read for you.

Rating: 5/5

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