My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Otherlife, the debut novel from Julia Gray, skates on the edge of worlds; it is a story about darkness and the thin space between ourselves and something other. For Ben, this is The Otherlife – a world populated by magic, Norse mythology and spoken, storied danger. With his feet in both worlds, Ben begins to escape the pressures of competitive school life and parents and his privileged, rich, friend Hobie, wants in on it. He wants in on it bad.
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this book. I talk a lot about literature and space; every book occupies a certain, distinct space within the world. Sometimes the frame for that space is made for the book, sometimes the book makes that frame. Certain points touch (Lyra talks to Triss who talks to Katniss…) and sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes they stand in spaces that are so viciously their own. The Otherlife (and that gorgeous, wild cover of its) carves its space within the world with a ferociously singular intent and it is hypnotic in doing so.
Gray writes a dense, layered world. It’s not a simple, sharp read; it’s slow, dense and big. Very big. Reading The Otherlife is like being given something dark, wild, and not quite knowing if you can handle it. It’s so madly distinct that I don’t think you can really rate it in something as simple as stars or even in something as convoluted as this sentence. What it is is different, brilliantly, starkly, ferociously so. It is well written, beautiful and terrifying in places, but it is also slow and soft and delicate; a book of mirrors and every word carefully pressed against the edges of one world or another.
I don’t guarantee reviews. What I do guarantee is reviews for books that nestle in somewhere dark and new-shaped inside my mind and refuse to let me go. The Otherlife is a limpet book, tight and mysterious and it is part of me now. I will always, always talk about those books that do that, that stand aside from the rest of the world and demand attention. This is such, this is that book.