Saturday, March 22

The Opposite of Life – Narelle M Harris

Melbourne geek girl Lissa Wilson’s managed to find a comfortable routine in her adult life that was missing from her childhood – her beloved part-time job as a librarian manages to meet her rent, utilities and uni fees, with enough left over to keep her from starving, and between her protective older sister Kate and a few friends her social life is active enough. Recently dumped, Lissa’s taken out to a club by her friend Evie to cheer up. Finding the eviscerated bodies of two party girls in the toilets doesn’t improve Lissa’s mood, and then it seems everywhere she turns more bodies turn up. It might be coincidence, but Lissa feels a responsibility to work out what’s going on, and winds up discovering a side to Melbourne she had no idea existed.
This is an absorbing novel that manages to avoid most of the vampire genre’s most irritating clichés while maintaining a surprising level of realism. The multi-layered plot deals as much with Lissa’s complex family issues as with the intertwined supernatural elements, keeping it grounded, and the main characters are well-drawn. As someone who has family issues (though not at all on Lissian scale) - and who doesn’t? - the conflicted feelings and incoherent but reflexive responses family invoke rang a clear bell, and this was cleverly woven through the novel.
Lissa is relatable, her reactions understandable, and her first-person narration feels fresh and honest. Her sister Kate is sympathetic, and it’s a tribute to Harris’s writing that her pain is barely evident until the concluding scenes because we see her through Lissa’s eyes. The unexpected hero is refreshingly complex and much of him remains hidden even at the end, which I quite enjoyed. We’ve mentioned several times that some authors setting novels in Melbourne have trouble striking a balance between setting it anywhere and hitting the reader over the head with a ”we’re in Melbourne” sign. The Opposite of Life is clearly written by someone with a knowledge of the city, particularly the inner city. There were mentions of specific streets and suburbs, and the obligatory tram network, but for the most part they felt integral to the plot and not tacked on for local flavour – less deft than the magnificent Greenwood, but not by much.
I saw the final twist coming before Lissa did, but not much earlier, and this didn’t dampen my enthusiasm at all. The conclusion is satisfying, and neither tied everything up in an overly-neat bow nor left loose ends for an obvious sequel. The Opposite of Life is Harris’s first published novel – I look forward to reading her next. - Alex

For Lynn's review, click here

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