My enormous thanks to Sarah Harwood at Penguin Random House for providing a copy of Stephanie Butland’s ‘The Other Half of My Heart’ in return for an honest review. It was published by Black Swan in paperback on 22nd October 2015.
Bettina (Tina) May has opened a bakery as a means to forget her unhappy past. She is trying to develop a relationship with Rufus, but her heart isn’t entirely in it. There are too many memories preventing her from going forward. Will she ever be truly happy?
Having hosted Stephanie here on Linda’s Book Bag as part of her book launch, I’d heard such good things about ‘The Other Half of My Heart that I was determined to read it as soon as I could. I was not disappointed.
It took me ages to read ‘The Other Half of My Heart’. Not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because the depth of emotion that came through the writing was so overwhelming I could only bear it for short bursts. I had to keep putting the book down to absorb and reflect on what I’d read otherwise my own heart was in danger of breaking with Bettina’s. I had thought from the original promotional materials that the narrative might be lightweight, but not a bit of it. Stephanie Butland explores major themes of life including death, love, jealousy, loss and grief. Well plotted, so that even where the reader already knows certain elements, there is still a surprise to jolt them. Descriptions of baking are wonderful and the bonus recipes from the book at the end are a real delight.
However, it is the characterisation that is the triumph of this novel. Bettina is both physically and emotionally damaged and ‘The Other Half of My Heart’ explores without sentimentality the ways in which we come to terms with what life throws at us – sometimes more successfully than others. Initially I found some of Bettina’s actions difficult to appreciate and was frustrated that she behaved as she did towards Rufu, but as the pieces of the past were slowly revealed it became apparent that she couldn’t have behaved any other way. This is such clever writing.
Stephanie Butland has created a totally compelling story that doesn’t so much tug at your emotions as twist them into an almost visceral depth of feeling. In the same way Bettina measures the ingredients for her baking, so every word from Stephanie Butland is measured to ensure her writing is emotive, beautiful and satisfying. This is a book everyone should read.