All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Other Half Of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

on August 5, 2019

The Other Half Of Augusta Hope 
Joanna Glen
Borough Press
2019, 384p
Copy courtesy of Harper Collins AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Augusta Hope has never felt like she fits in.

At six, she’s memorising the dictionary. At seven, she’s correcting her teachers. At eight, she spins the globe and picks her favourite country on the sound of its name: Burundi.

And now that she’s an adult, Augusta has no interest in the goings-on of the small town where she lives with her parents and her beloved twin sister, Julia.

When an unspeakable tragedy upends everything in Augusta’s life, she’s propelled headfirst into the unknown. She’s determined to find where she belongs – but what if her true home, and heart, are half a world away?

I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect going into this one. The blurb is pretty vague and looks like it could go in any number of directions.

Augusta Hope is a twin but her and her sister Julia are quite different. Augusta loves words – she reads the dictionary for fun and is always looking for new words, things that interest her. Her parents, one of whom runs a uniform shop and the other who helps out but is mostly a stay at home parent, don’t quite know what to make of Augusta. She has a thirst for knowledge and it seems that her surroundings don’t really satisfy her. Augusta also has a kind heart – she is one of the only people to befriend her next door neighbour’s child, a boy with profound disability, much to her father’s chagrin. Augusta and her twin Julia are inseparable until Augusta gets the marks to go away to university. Julia remains behind, living with their parents in the same childhood bedroom. From there, their lives begin to move in two very different directions.

Parfait is a young boy living in Burundi when the story begins. He and his family are caught up in the middle of a civil war and Parfait can only watch helplessly as much of his family is wiped out by the violence. A local missionary Priest from Spain gives Parfait the idea to escape to Spain. It’s a long, arduous journey that will take its toll on Parfait in more ways than one and it sets in motion the events that will eventually link these two narratives together.

I found quite a lot of the early parts of this story quite charming – Augusta is quirky but in just the right amount and her intelligence and desire to know more, her love of words, were all things that I found really quite enjoyable about her. Their street is an interesting depiction of what I feel is middle class Britishness, especially later on with the discussions of Brexit and the like, when Augusta is an adult. And the parts set in Burundi (which just happens to be one of Augusta’s favourite words and therefore her favourite country, which she has taken it upon herself to learn as much about as she can) were heartbreaking and yet also strangely uplifting in terms of wanting Parfait to succeed in his desire for a better life for himself and those who remain in his family. This is not easy and it gets a whole lot worse for Parfait, before it begins to get any better.

The two narratives don’t come together until quite late in the novel. Parfait’s tragedy has been a constant thing but Augusta’s doesn’t happen until she’s an adult and she’s completely blindsided by the two events. From quite a way out you can see where the book is going, bringing these two characters together but it’s a bit of a slow burn to get them there. I enjoyed the process though, and the journey of getting to know both Augusta and Parfait. Both of them are isolated in many ways, sometimes by circumstance, sometimes by design. And yet when they come together they discover that they are linked by one tragedy that encompassed people they both cared about. It’s something that binds them, makes them an unlikely pair. And although this is so serious, it’s littered with moments that lighten the mood with warmth and charm. I especially found amusing Parfait’s reaction to Augusta knowing absolutely anything about Burundi (even where it is) and he’s blown away by the depth of her knowledge about his country and the love and connection she feels toward it, even though she’s never been there. Just from being a child, connecting with the word, choosing it as her favourite and then obsessively devouring everything on it that she possibly could.

I ended up enjoying (most of) this quite a lot. I think there were probably a few small, niggling kind of issues that for me, cropped up very late in the book that I did wonder at the necessity of including. It’s quite difficult to really discuss why I had a problem with one aspect of the story in particular without spoiling it but it did make me feel a bit like it was presented as necessary but I didn’t at all feel it was. I didn’t agree with something Augusta did late in the book but I’ve also never experienced the sort of thing that drove her to it either so perhaps it’s just difficult for me to understand that level of grief and what it might make people do. It’s just not something I felt contributed to the story in a positive way really because it could have been achieved in other ways. I just found it a bit….odd. And so it was a bit of a curious note toward the end for me. It didn’t take away from the earlier charm I felt the novel possessed but it did stand out for me as something that didn’t work.


Book #116 of 2019



One response to “Review: The Other Half Of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen

  1. I know what you’re referring to here and I agree, it wasn’t necessary.
    I feel though that I am the only person who found Augusta irritating at times. Exhausting even. I also found the book took far too long to get to its point. But overall, it’s a worthy read, for sure.

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