The Bit In Between is the story of two twenty something Australians, Alison and Oliver, who meet in an airport lounge, both on their way back to Melbourne, and share an instant connection despite Alison promptly throwing up on Oliver.
The two are likeable enough but when we first meet them, Alison and Oliver are also extremely self -centred and somewhat annoying. Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands on a whim following a few days of fun together, and a funeral, and without seeing her family as planned, making them wait at the train station three times for her to arrive. Oliver’s relationship with his Greek family is explored in some depth in the book. Alison’s is not, and I think this is a pity and a very big gap in the story.
Oliver struggles with his writing – it’s hard to believe at times he is a published author – and Alison does not fit in, especially with the other expat women. As Alison’s friendship with Sera develops, she finds ways to use her skills to help local women and her own confidence and outlook grow as a result.
Conflict arises in the relationship as Alison gains more confidence and Oliver’s writing seems to impact more and more on their lives together. Both of them mature a lot as the story progresses and by the end of the book the reader has more respect and affection for them. The minor characters in the book are interesting, complex and sometimes hilarious.
The Bit In Between is a terrific book. It really nails the restless search for identity and place by young Australians abroad and its portrait of the Solomon Islands is warm and insightful. I recognise so many of the characters from my own travels and Alison’s stumbling efforts to forge her own identity and find something meaningful, reminds me – somewhat uncomfortably – of myself at that age.
The dialogue is spot-on and quite often very funny. I really enjoyed the back stories of people Alison meets, sometimes only in passing. Each of the characters comes across as very real.
It is a pity that the book is being promoted as a romance for twenty-something readers. While the relationship between Alison and Oliver is central to the story, the themes of the book – identity, family, relationships and culture – deserve a wide audience and I feel that potential readers who would enjoy the book may be put off by that narrow marketing focus. I feel the weakest part of the book is the ending. The book finishes quickly and in a way that supports the romance focus and it seems, to me at least, as if it is not entirely true to the rest of the book. Unlike Oliver, I’m not against happy endings. It’s just that this one seems a little more forced than the book and the characters’ increasing depth would suggest.
It’s fascinating to read a book set in the Solomon Islands, one of our close neighbours, especially by an author with such experience and affection for the country. The Bit In Between is Claire Varley’s first book, hard to believe as she has such a strong writing voice. I look forward to her next one.
Claire Varley grew up on the Bellarine Peninsula and now lives in Melbourne. She has taught English in China and coordinated community development programs in the Solomon Islands. She has drawn on these experiences, and her Greek Cypriot heritage, in the book.
Claire’s website is www.clairevarley.com
More about The Bit In Between can be found here:
Thank you to Pan Macmillan for providing a review copy. The book is available in your local bookshop now.