A review by Nalini Haynes
Alison vomits all over Oliver in an airport lounge, the perfect beginning to a romance. Not. And yet a couple of days later she changes her entire life to fly from Melbourne to the Solomon Islands, supporting him while he writes his second book. A book Oliver is determined will not have a happy ending.
I picked The Bit In Between out of my review pile because it was billed as being “like the Rosie Project” and I needed a pick-me-up. However, The Bit In Between would have been better marketed on its own: it’s not cackle-in-a-public-place funny like the opening of the Rosie Project even though it is like the latter third where Simsion gets serious. Wry humor pokes fun at hipsters and life in a millennial hipsterish way.
Oliver and then Alison become obsessed with the thought that Oliver’s work in progress has a magical influence over reality, with life imitating his art. Using this somewhat awkward vehicle, Varley makes excellent observations about how men can take over their partners’ lives, subsuming women to become something less instead of the couple becoming more than their disparate halves. But if you’re reading it for the romance, it’s a bit far-fetched, raising issues of mental illness that aren’t addressed. And the ending is somewhat forced. But then, it is the bit in between…
Flash fiction is scattered throughout Oliver and Alison’s story. These are backstories of people Alison meets, most of which — especially early in the book — are tragedies. I chose The Bit In Between hoping for a pick-me-up and was knocked further down by these mini-tragedies. Later in the novel these flash fictions are more neutral in tone or, occasionally, even upbeat.
The author’s aim gives context when reviewing a story. As a low-key romance with wry humor, The Bit In Between works although the ending seems influenced by Lucy Snow and the reader’s wishes (without the “this should be a tragedy but I’ll allow you to think it’s not” overtones). However, The Bit In Between is a feminist story, comparing women’s lives with men’s, demonstrating the unhealthiness of codependence, the importance of inter-dependence in relationships and the difference between the two, for which Varley should be commended.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback, 265 pages
Imprint: Macmillan Australia