In brief: Eleanor and Charlie are sisters, and very different from each other. Over the summer, their relationships are going to become very messy. But will they get what they want?
The good: Fascinating story.
The not-so-good: None of the characters are particularly likeable, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Why I chose it: Really enjoyed Love & Virtue.
Publisher: Ultimo Press
Setting: Sydney, Australia
Rating: 9 out of 10
Diana Reid’s novels are often compared to Sally Rooney’s but I think Reid is more enjoyable overall. Even when her characters act despicably, I love her writing and understand better what drives them. Seeing Other People is not specifically a COVID-19 novel, but rather a post-lockdown novel. It’s an opportunity to get out there, have fun and for each of the characters to decide if what they are chasing is what they really want.
For sisters Eleanor and Charlie, this summer is going to be full of change and drama. Eleanor’s boyfriend confesses to an indiscretion and her calm response is that they should break up. It doesn’t really mean a great deal, Mark wasn’t really the one anyway. Charlie is much more emotional than eternally calm Eleanor and falls in love with Helen. But does Helen feel the same way? It starts to get messy when Helen and Eleanor become friends, but withhold that from Charlie. In between are long parties, days at the beach and a summer Christmas. It turns out that the sisters are both holding secrets from each other, and when they are exposed, one after another, it will hurt them both.
I wouldn’t say either Eleanor or Charlie are characters you will love because of their flawed nature (and what’s more uncomfortable than the naked truth)? Eleanor likes to reorder the narrative to remove her faults and Charlie throws her whole being into everything, enjoying the drama. The sisters have their set roles – Eleanor, the wise older sister and Charlie, the younger sister who will never reach Eleanor’s heights of calmness and security. They relapse chronically into these roles, until the hurt of the lies between them destroys it. Even though it was really uncomfortable for the characters, I enjoyed the messiness of the drama; emotions, blunt words and fallout. The pair are both quite self-centred but claim (truthfully or not) to have only the other’s best interests at heart. It was quite refreshing to see characters behaving badly knowing that they will cause hurt and having to deal with the consequences. The feeling of Everything Related To Me Being Very Important self-centredness of people in their twenties was perfectly captured, alongside some grand gestures about the world in general (and some excellent insights).
Reid writes characters that are fascinating without forcing judgement about their actions. The plot of Seeing Other People was also just the right speed of a hot, lazy summer – long moments that seem to last forever, followed by quick movements when the weather turns cool. She’s an author to watch and I look forward to her next novel, which is sure to be insightful when it comes to characters acting on the margins of their morals.
Siblings, particularly sisters, can have such relationships fraught with conflict, jealousy, etc. These sisters seem to fit the bill.