As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade making and breaking romantic connections, I love reading stories that accurately depict the extreme emotions felt at the beginning of a relationship, and how those epic highs and lows tend to balance out over time. The beginning of a relationship is thrilling and terrifying. It’s uncertain, chaotic, and equally messy and easy.
I love the feeling of a new love, but I also love the feeling that comes with familiarity and comfort. I love falling into an effortless routine after the initial pressure that a new relationship can bring. The pressure to be entertaining, funny, easygoing, charming… it’s fun, but there’s an innate beauty to be found sitting next to each other in silence, simply enjoying the presence of another. These feelings, and many more, are all loaded into Claire Varley’s debut novel The Bit In Between, and it’s a novel that I enjoyed immensely.
Alison and Oliver meet at the airport after an unfortunate upchuck incident and immediately form a connection. They are both at a stage in their lives where they are lacking meaning and direction. Alison has just returned broken-hearted from a romantic adventure in China, and Oliver is trying to write his second novel following the unexpected death of his grandmother. They meet, they connect, and the bit in between begins.
As a fellow 20-something who often feels like she’s not doing adulthood properly, I related to Alison in many stages of the novel. Around halfway through, she’s talking to Oliver about what other people are doing with their lives.
Everyone I know is getting married, talking about mortgages and planning their careers. That’s not me. Should it be? Should it? Because that’s not what I want right now, but maybe I should. Maybe I’m going to wake up an old barren spinster because I was too busy doing other things to remember to reproduce and have a career. I haven’t even worked out what I want to do yet. I just feel like I’m supposed to have all this stuff worked out and I don’t. I haven’t planned any of it.
I think this paragraph sums up any and all of the insecurities I’ve felt about my life over the past three years. It seems that almost once a week a friend is getting engaged, getting married, announcing a pregnancy, or giving birth. I know people my age who’ve had more than one kid. Moreover, I know people younger with more than one kid! I struggle sometimes to reconcile how different my life is compared to the lives of friends and acquaintances I see online. Alison reminded me that sometimes people take longer to figure out what they are doing, and that’s okay. They don’t fall into the date, marry, reproduce mould, and that’s okay.
The things you hope to see when you’re looking at yourself you won’t find them in me or anybody else.
The Bit In Between also reminded me about loving the self before being able to be loved in return. The 20s have been for me an almost-decade (I’m only almost-27) of self-love and self-loathing, where I can move from being completely accepting of myself to being completely repulsed by myself within a matter of days. The cycles are endless, but ultimately I can’t allow someone else to unequivocally love and accept me until I unequivocally love and accept myself. I’m working on that, and this novel reinforced how important self-love and self-acceptance is when trying to build a healthy relationship.
This novel isn’t all about deep life messages. It’s full of wit, charm, and humour, and in no way suggests that it could have been picked from the slush pile. It flows beautifully, and the tropical setting of the Solomon Islands portrays the political and cultural sides of island life without getting lost in the details. I particularly enjoyed the randomly dispersed italic sections that give background to supporting characters that couldn’t easily be introduced in the novel’s regular structure. Without being abrupt, Varley managed to make me care about brief and seemingly insignificant characters; they may only appear for half a page at most, but each character brings a different part of the story to life and adds richness to Alison and Oliver’s world. Some reviews suggest these sections to be unnecessary, but the messages the eccentric and oddball characters added to the story were important overall.
This book resonated with me in ways that are specific to my current frame of mind, but I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to anyone who is looking for a slightly-heavier-than-light read that is ultimately vibrant and delightful. Also, if you are put off by the magical realism hint in the blurb, don’t be dissuaded from reading The Bit In Between. It’s about as contemporary and real as it gets.