“Book Review: The Glorious Between”
Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
A sensory feast that explores who we are without our pasts
There’s a cluster of tumors in Emily’s head. They’re devouring her memories and, slowly, her life. As her life ebbs, she asks Dr. Patrick Marsh to tell the story they share again and again. When it is not their tale he’s telling, she asks him for his. The fables of his twice-named brother, faux-Italian father, and Alessandra, his positively magical mother, are etched in pen on her skin. Across her arms, along her fingers, down her legs – lest a moment of these lives are lost to her.
Patrick is desperate to save the woman he has fallen deeply and inexplicably in love with. But the medical career he had leaned on so heavily can’t cure Emily, and when he tries to restore her memories, she fights him. She doesn’t want the past – murky with pain and regret. She wants the now. And the future – a future that Alessandra’s magic may just be able to change.
Reading The Glorious Between feels like delving into Emily’s head. Events happen in a haphazard manner. Time is hazy at best. We find out major things long after it feels that we should know them. It’s difficult to tell whether Emily has known Patrick a week, a month, or a year. Trying to make sense of how things unfold is grating at best and downright maddening at worst. At times you know something has happened, but the information is fed out in scraps barely large enough to taste until finally the picture unravels. It gives readers a sense of what life must be like for Emily and why she feels the need to jot every important part down while she can.
Atmosphere is teased out through lush, sensory description. Patrick’s stories are laden with powerfully gorgeous imagery. When Emily daydreams of the places he’s been or the stories he’s heard, the same rich detail cascades across the pages. The scent of wine, the tinkling sound of snowflakes, or the sensation of cold hands closed around a mug of marshmallow-topped hot chocolate. In the hospital these elements dry up, becoming so sparse that I crave the next story, and escape from the hospital, almost as much as Emily.
While I find the characters a bit unnatural in speech and actions at times, they serve well as a vehicle for the questions the book is exploring. Quests to find the self are common fare in any genre, but here the exploration takes an almost philosophical bend. Emily claims often that she is not her body, but with no memory is there much else left? Can she know herself without knowing her past? And has the new past she has claimed for herself altered her? When her physical body is the vehicle that cannot retain the past, these questions don’t have easy answers.
The Glorious Between starts strong. The curious twist on an established premise makes it an engaging read. Unfortunately, the final quarter of the novel takes a turn that I think could throw readers off like it did me. It happens late in the story and, while there is some foreshadowing, it’s a difficult leap to the novel’s conclusion. I won’t give too much away because I still want you to give it a shot, but it does feel important to include.
The Glorious Between is a sinuous, luxurious exploration of what makes us who we are. With a fascinating beginning and glorious descriptive detail, it is the kind of novel made to both savor and ponder.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Paperback: 284 pages
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