The Other Half of Augusta Hope…
About the Book:
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 is one of those novels where you don’t really know, heading in, what you’re truly in for. The blurb gives the impression that this might be one of those stories where the character is sailing along, trying hard to discover who they really are, tragedy strikes its savage blow, levels them, and then before you can blink, they have emerged stronger and surer, knowing exactly who they are in this new and altered universe. It is to a certain extent, but it’s not quite as straightforward as all that either.
“I knew I was weird, but it was a weird I was starting to like now I had black-framed glasses and a blunt fringe and red lipstick and written-on Converse trainers with a mysterious blotchy green rectangle on the left-hand shoe.”
We meet Augusta right at the beginning of her life, born as a twin, yet just after midnight into the freshly minted month of August, giving her a different birthday to her sister, Julia. And from here on in, Augusta lives every second of her life proving herself different to her family, her neighbours, her friends, and pretty much everyone else she meets. She’s quirky and clearly smart, but she lacks grace and social skills; at times I found her endearing but this was outweighed by the times I found her wearisome. This was largely exacerbated by my one criticism of the novel: it takes a very long time for the story to reach its point. The unspeakable tragedy doesn’t occur until the 70 percent mark. Up until here, we’re really just going along for the ride that is Augusta’s life. This was, for the most part, entertaining, but I won’t lie, it did begin to slump about halfway, giving me pause to wonder where it was all headed. This is a good example of the tediousness of Augusta’s verbal outpouring:
“It was Easter, and Julia was arranging her pale pink roses from Diego in a glass jug.
‘Rose thorns aren’t actually thorns. They should be called prickles. They’re where the epidermis bulges outwards,’ I said. Julia nodded. ‘The Romans used to wear roses on strings around their necks,’ I said. ‘Anything said under the rose had to be kept a secret.’ Julia nodded. ‘A rose fossil was found in Colorado which was thirty-five million years old.’ Julia nodded. ‘Did you know that more than 80 per cent of the land in Zambia is covered in roses?’
‘No more,’ said Julia. ‘That’s enough. No more research, Aug. Let me love roses because I do.’
‘Do you honestly prefer not knowing all this stuff?’ I said.
‘We’re just different,’ said Julia.”
Once we reach the tragedy, the novel certainly picks up, but it also speeds up, so there could have been a bit more balance applied to the narrative. I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, but I also think it’s worth noting that there are some heavy themes explored, many of which may trigger some readers: war crimes, death, suicide, post-natal depression, still-birth, disability, grief, and guilt. So it’s not a light read, despite how entertaining Augusta often was. Yet the author handles these themes well, weaving them in and out of her story with precision, sometimes cutting deeply, other times with more subtlety. While this story may put you through the ringer, there is so much depth to it, so much to take away from it; it’s definitely worth the heartache.
“Yet it is so ordinary to be born, and so ordinary to die. 350,000 births per day, apparently. And 150,000 deaths. Approximately. Around the world. That’s 15,000 births and 6,300 deaths per hour. 250 births each minute and 105 deaths. Count to one. Four babies have arrived. Count to two. Two of us have left the world. Right now. As you click your fingers. If only we left the earth in pairs. Like animals leaving the ark. Two by two hurrah. Hand in hand. Or died together like roses on the same bush. It would be so much less scary.”
There is another point of view within this story, that of Parfait, who lives in Burundi, Augusta’s favourite country. Parfait and Augusta don’t know each other until almost at the end of the story, but we follow Parfait’s life alongside Augusta’s. Parfait’s story is punctuated with tragedy though, whereas Augusta’s culminates in it, yet as the two of them get older, there almost seems to be some cosmic connection between them. When they do finally meet, their friendship seems pre-ordained; it was an interesting exploration on coincidence and destiny.
“That’s when I saw it. She’d unwittingly got wrapped up in my story. This tragedy wasn’t only mine.”
This was definitely a novel that ebbed and flowed for me but it was well and truly worth reading. It’s beautifully written, and despite all of the heartache, it ends on a hopeful note.
“We walked out into the square in the warm evening air, which tickled my shoulders and smelled of honeysuckle and sea. The cobbles were lumpy beneath my espadrilles, and, as we walked along the beach road, the crickets were summer-crazy in the long dry grass, and the egrets were flying to the big old tree where they loved to perch, hundreds of them, lighting up the dark under the moon.”
Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a copy of The Other Half of Augusta Hope for review.
About the Author:
Joanna Glen read Spanish at the University of London, with a stint at the Faculty of Arts at Cordoba University in the south of Spain. She went on to teach Spanish and English to all ages, and, latterly, was a School Principal in London. She has edited a variety of non-fiction books, is a visiting lecturer, a communications coach and an adviser and trainer for schools. Joanna’s short fiction has appeared in the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology. She lives with her husband and children on the River Thames in Battersea, returning to Andalusia whenever it gets too grey.
The Other Half of Augusta Hope
Published by HarperCollins (GB)
Released on 17th June 2019