The Bit in Between is a strong debut from Claire Varley, a novel that is a potent combination of entertainment and meaning, hilarity and sorrow – the epitome of life.
The Bit in Between Synopsis:
There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.
After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.
With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.
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Why this manuscript made it’s way to publication via a stint in not one but many publisher’s ‘slush piles’ is honestly beyond my understanding. Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between has a striking and strong beginning.
From a moving analogy of life being ‘nothing but a series of tides and waves’
There are no tsunamis in this story – no seismic vibrations or geological cataclysms — but there are waves. Tides come and go, and if you know how to read them you can predict what will happen. And here is the choice: you can either adapt in anticipation — raise yourself on stilts, sandbag your heart or make your life faraway in the hills — or else you can get on with it, living your days knowing it could strike at any moment, because sometimes even the most effective early warning systems clang their bells and sound their sirens too late…
to some wonderful laugh-out-loud dialogue between Oliver and Alison who have been thrown together by waves — waves of nausea — I was hooked.
For all the warm and fuzzy, dare I say ‘romantic comedy’ type moments that the reader is then swept up in, The Bit in Between is so much more than that. It quickly becomes clear that Claire Varley has important things to say.
Through both her characters’ actions and their responses to the actions of others, Varley explores philosophical questions — the extent to which our destiny is predetermined and how that concept of ‘destiny’ can coexist with our need to feel in control. And these issues are not only explored in the context of Oliver and Alison’s twenty-something age group. Varley employs many interesting devices which really ground the story, balancing out the sometimes flightier elements of young love.
A great example is the correspondence Oliver receives from his mother who is learning to use email. Her continual attempts to set him up with ‘the nice girls who are teaching her’ rather than Alison, and reminders to get his prostrate checked, are very funny. But, on a deeper level this points to a mother’s lack of control yet unrelenting desire to protect and bring about only the best for their children, no matter what they do.
In the middle of this novel there were a couple of passages that I thought suffered from character indulgence or lack of propulsion. However by that point I was very much invested, and in any event the pace quickly resumed.
Other than first class dialogue, what I really admired was how Varley zooms in on characters that her leads Oliver and Alison only have glancing interactions with. These vignettes succinctly describe the characters’ life experiences that led them to that point. They are touching without being saccharine. The overall effect is a powerful reminder that everyone has their own unique back story. It also highlights the arrogance of assumptions or perhaps worse, the effects of indifference.
Varley’s deep respect and love for the people of The Solomon Islands is clear. The Bit in Between speaks to the strength and importance of all people.
The Bit in Between is a strong debut from Varley, a novel that is a potent combination of entertainment and meaning, hilarity and sorrow – the epitome of life. I look forward to reading more from this young Australian author.
UPDATE: This delightful author joined us to chat more about her debut and what she’s working on next — read our Q&A with Claire Varley.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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Genre: Romance, Drama, Humour
About the Author, Claire Varley
Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and lives in Melbourne. She has sold blueberries, worked in a haunted cinema, won an encouragement award for being terrible at telemarketing, taught English in rural China, and coordinated community development projects in remote Solomon Islands.
Her short stories and poems have appeared in Australian Love Stories (‘A Greek Tragedy’), Australian Love Poems (‘Beatitude’), Seizure online (‘Poll’, ‘Hallow’), page seventeen (‘Once’, ‘Hamlet, Remus and Two Guys Named Steve’), Sotto (‘in the name of’) and (‘The Nicholas Name’, ‘Behind Tram Lines’). In 2015 she was shortlisted for Seizure’s Viva la Novella 2 competition. Oh, and when she was sixteen she was the Victorian state winner of the secondary section of the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Award for a very depressing poem about life in the outback. They read her poem at school assembly.
Check out Claire’s website.
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* My receiving a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.