Published by Pan Macmillan Australia on August 1, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
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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, quite a lot of vomit, 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'.
The Bit In Between is a fun, vibrant book about two artistic beings – a poet and writer, who meet on a plane, and decide to travel to the Solomon Islands for writing inspiration. The writing was really easy to get into, and it felt like a really light island comedy romance, with eccentric characters, the island life style and a meaningful story.
The novel is light hearted with some fantastic dialogue between the characters. Alison seemingly has no direction in life following artistic men wherever the tide takes them. In the past, she’s been swayed by her Greek god-like ex-boyfriend Ed, and when she meets Oliver, she’s attracted by his talent as a published writer. Befriending Sera at the Solomon Islands was a turning point for Alison, and she really begins to grow as a character. Her journey tells us that even if you have no direction in life, sometimes it takes going out of your comfort zone to figure out what that is.
Oliver’s writing process was an interesting nod towards writers. He gathers ideas from his personal situation between himself and Alison, writing people that he meets and situations that they encounter into his novel. From becoming a shut in as he furiously writes drafts to, supporting his bromance friend Rick, Oliver’s creative journey felt like an authentic one. Later in the book, I thought it was going the magical realism route, but I’m glad it didn’t follow this path.
The political, cultural, and traditional tide of the Solomon Islands is captured in the book. I really felt the heart of these people and of the culture, and it was captured in an interesting way through Alison’s involvement with Sera and the people that they encountered. It also opened my eyes to the expat community and how they make a difference to a country, but are so far away from home.
Throughout the book, The Bit In Between gives us brief snippets of people’s lives that they encounter. From expats, to diplomats, to island men and wives, it was interesting seeing the different lives that people lead and how they came to be there. They pretty much have no impact on the book or it’s story though.
The Bit In Between is a comedic contemporary romance between two quirky individuals. It features eccentric characters, the creative journey of drafting a manuscript and a close look at the Solomon Island’s culture. Books that open our eyes to new experiences and different cultures are always a plus in my book, and The Bit In Between did exactly that.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thank you to Macmillan Australia for sending me this book for review.
Interview with Claire Varley
The Bit in Between was drawn from your own experience when you lived at the Solomon Islands. What inspired you to write about it?
I wrote a whole different manuscript first that was about the grief-stricken ghosts of historical figures trapped in limbo on a Pacific island, destroying the crops with erratic weather caused by their despair. Your reaction is correct – firstly, what? And secondly, not exactly the love letter I wanted to write to the Solomons. The idea for The Bit in Between came not long after. I wanted to explore the Solomons and the people who make up its communities – both local and expat – and to examine the choices we do or don’t get to make in life that shape who we become.
How much of Oliver’s writing journey reflects your own?
Surprisingly very little. I didn’t have the pressure of already having a publisher like Oliver does so I really truly enjoyed the writing process. I had no deadlines other than my own and no one to impress but myself. And I have such a low standard for what I find amusing. I do relate to his fear that people will discover he is a hack who knows nothing about writing. I suspect a lot of writers feel like this – like someone is going to catch you out and reveal that you have no idea what you are doing. But then again, someone once told me that this is what being an adult is all about.
Tell us about the expat life in the book.
There’s that old saying that expats are either mercenaries, missionaries or madmen. I don’t think this is entirely true but it got me thinking about the fact that everyone has their own story and this was something I wanted to explore in the book. For the almost two years I lived in the Solomons I didn’t live in Honiara, the capital. There were only two other non-Solomon Islanders living in the province I was in so we had a very different experience to those in Honiara where most of the expats live.
There’s little life story snippets of different characters in the book – are any of these based on people you met in your travels?
Not directly, but every character is an amalgamation or Frankenstein’s monster of the people you meet, the stories you hear and the scenarios you invent in your head. And there’s a little bit of me in every single one of them, particularly the more annoying ones. In another less self-aware life I would be Rick.
Later in the book, we almost reach an area of magical realism with Oliver’s writing paralleling his own. Was this an intentional part of the story?
Absolutely. I read Eva Luna then Love in a Time of Cholera, and was really taken by the subtly and almost ambiguity of the magical realism within the writing. (As opposed to Remedios just up and ascending to heaven in One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I equally adored.) I wanted to create something that would divide people on whether what we are seeing is magic or not. I would love to know what people think. I have these happy fantasies of people arguing passionately around a stylishly set dinner table, gesturing sloppily at each other with wine glasses as they make their points.
The ending was quite a tease – can you at least tell us if it was a happy one?
Oliver tells us that there’s no such thing as happy endings. He may or may not be right. Who knows.
The Bit In Between by Claire Varley, Macmillan Australia, RRP $29.99.
Giveaway – Australians only
To celebrate the release of The Bit in Between, I’m giving away my copy to a lucky Aussie reader! Giveaway ends 28 August 2015.