‘Here’s the thing about being Inside. Ain’t no one believes that they are.’
Ele has never been Outside.
She has never seen a tree or felt the rain.
Her whole world is Inside
With her books and the Others and Him.
But here’s the secret . . .
Ele’s getting out.
Here beginneth my first review of an ARC! This is the first text I have been approved to review after joining NetGalley recently and I was beyond excited to get started. Outside is a dark and deeply disturbing book that will shake you to your core while also opening your mind to important ideas about life and its relationship with literature.
The most interesting thing about this book is the perspective from which it is written. Like the fantastic Room by Emma Donoghue, Outside is narrated by a child who knows nothing about the real world, which we inhabit. This means that, as Ele learns more about ‘Outside’ and describes what she encounters, we are able to read what she thinks and feels, while also being able to understand how she may be judged for her odd behaviour. To those unaware of her situation, her behaviour may seem weird (and we know that it is) but it makes complete sense to us as readers because it is being explained and justified by her thoughts. This is a fascinating style of writing as we can relate both to the central character, Ele, through the innocent and curious descriptions, but we can also view her from an outsider’s point of view. The way she explains what she sees is also interesting as it can be confusing but also make complete sense. For example, Ele speaks of how “there are ropes on the extra-skins round his feet that are jumping about all excited as he walks” (37%). Here, she is clearly describing shoelaces but it can take time for us to recognise what she is seeing. It is because of this perspective that one of the biggest twists in the book (I audibly gasped) is so effective and I am interested to see if this book will be optioned for film as I feel that said twist could not be done through film. The genius of it comes from how the writing is able to hide it but also fall completely into place once it is revealed.
Another interesting part of this novel was its treatment of fairytales and literature, in general. Literature is used in different ways throughout the book, for example, as a form of escapism – a use for literature that I, as I’m sure many others, know well. It also acts as a way to make the book less dark and easier to read for younger readers as particularly disturbing parts are told through the language of fairytales and references to other stories. Perhaps the most poignant use of literature in the book, however, is the fact that it is merely normality for Ele as books are her only point of reference for how the world works. She, therefore, understands the world through the fairytales she reads. For example, she believes, at one point, that she must wait in her “tower” (the place where she has been imprisoned) for a Prince to save her as this is what the books say will happen. This means that literature and reality do completely overlap in Outside as, to Ele, they are one and the same. My favourite image in the book is when decides she will no longer adhere strictly to the books she has read but will become the storyteller and write her own story. This can be read as a lesson to us all, teaching us that we can learn a lot from literature but that we should not let it control us and our beliefs entirely, rather we should use it as something to guide us in our decision-making.
My only near-criticism of this book was that about half way to two-thirds of the way through it, I began to get annoyed, thinking it was becoming slightly unbelievable. I thought that Will and Ezra were taking too long to contact the authorities about Ele due to her disturbing appearance and behaviour. However, I was glad to find that the author saved the novel later when we find that the two characters perhaps suspected more than they were letting on and we were unable to see this due to our understanding coming from Ele’s perspective only. They were able to guess more about where she had come from and what had happened to her than we might have thought and, knowing that ‘He’ is a shifty-looking person, wanted to look after her and gather more information before subjecting her to any more trauma. In fact, Ezra openly admits towards the end of the novel that he should have acted sooner but, having received all the facts, I actually believe Ele needed her time with Ezra and Will before tackling her past or future.
This was an expertly written book that sent shivers up my spine and a tear to my eye. I am hugely grateful to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for allowing me to read this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. Outside is due to be published on January 3rd, 2019, and I recommend you all get your hands on a copy. What do you think? Does it sound like your cup of tea? Have you read it already and enjoyed it? Let me know in the comments below!