Inside by Alix Ohlin
|Inside by Alix Ohlin|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Andy Lancaster|
|Summary: This is a crisply written, insightful exploration of the motives and pride to be paid for caring. The novel takes us into the lives of four Canadian characters through whom we see an interconnected web of dependency, and a revealing insight into the human condition. A novel well worth reading twice.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 344||Date: May 2012|
Grace, a therapist, stumbles upon a young man in the woods who has attempted to commit suicide, and her vocational interests are immediately engaged. The novel takes us through their complex relationship, both its surface routines and day to day moments but also Grace's eventually successful search for the reasons behind Tug's desperation. Ohlin interlaces with this the story of Mitch, Grace's ex-husband, and of Annie, one of her clients, chronicling both their relationship with Grace, but also their network of families and friends, acquaintances and colleagues.
Therapy is at the centre of this novel, as both Mitch and Grace are professionals as Annie and Tug are clients (or potential clients). And yet this doesn’t descend into quack psychology or simplistic analysis. Ohlin is careful to keep her therapists alive on a very personal level, and whatever their professional roles, we see them as people first and foremost.
Thematically Ohlin is unpicking the concept of care here, with each character, and each part of their stories, revealing different aspects of what it is to care for another, and how fragile the links between us truly are. Seeing the novel like this, one realises that the scale of Ohlin’s work is large, even though she deals with only a decade of four lives. We are given everything from the analysis of a human/dog relationship to the staggering implications of being caught up in genocide, with almost all permutations in between – same sex love, families, parents, lovers, child-parent. What unites all these is Ohlin's cool gaze, her mater-of-factness in writing about emotions. But it would be wrong to imply that this novel isn't moving, or that we don't feel for the characters. There are moments of real pathos and romance here, as well as the hard stare of the analyst.
The most interesting stylistic feature of the novel is the complexity of the narrative strands that run through it, and Ohlin's use of a non-linear time frame so that each chapter reveals a part of the narrative, but not in chronological order. While this might seem somewhat confusing as I have described it, in fact the narrative works really well. Ohlin is able to reveal the key ideas of the story as a psychological mystery almost, using the flashbacks and leaps forward almost as a therapist would, tracking the meaning through snippets of the story. It reads as a very convincing narration, the pieces separate from but linking to each other, and never confusing. In spite of Ohlin providing date stamps at the beginning of each chapter, I found that I never had to read them – the novel made perfect sense on its own.
Any reader will admire Ohlin's handling of the complexities here, her carefully structured revelation of the narrative alongside a very insightful investigation of what happen to those who care, and are cared for. It isn't a cheerful read, but at its core there is a calm and life affirming centre in the midst of the chaos that is human existence.
Psychologist/therapists and their own lives are a rich vein of fiction – one only has to think of Cracker – and in that genre The Semantics of Murder by Aifric Campbell is a crime novel which is embedded in this world, playing with the intermeshing of the therapist’s and client’s world.
On the other hand if this novel fires your interest in therapy itself Who Is It That Can Tell Me Who I Am? by Jane Haynes is both a theoretical and personal account of psychotherapy from the perspective of both the client and therapist.
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