Reviewed by Dolores Maund
Not only did The Other Half of Augusta Hope engage my interest immediately but the way in which the story unfolded and the characters developed meant that I was compelled to read the book from beginning to end over two days. During the time in which I became completely immersed in the world of Joanna Glen’s creation there were occasions when I laughed out loud at the sharply observed comical aspects of life which are depicted so adeptly while at other times I was so deeply moved that I wept. Joanna Glen has mastered the art of eliciting in the reader deep feelings for her wonderfully memorable characters, characters who will undoubtedly remain vivid in the mind of the reader long after the book is finished.
For the most part the novel focuses on the life of the character of the title, Augusta Hope, while the lesser part is devoted a young Rwandan man called Parfait. Each story is told in the first person and takes place over a similar time span. The book begins with Augusta’s perceptions of life as a pre-pubescent girl in a middle-class English family and ends with her as an adult. Augusta’s view of her family and the social milieu in which they live is rendered in a humorous, highly observant and delightfully convincing voice. The myriad and nuanced ways in which the family members communicate with and respond to one another is keenly noted by the perspicacious and intelligent Augusta whose rich interior life is so superbly depicted. While still a girl Augusta registers the distance, which often takes on the proportions of a chasm, between the goings on within her own inner landscape on the one hand and the mental and imaginative horizons of her sister and parents on the other. She is acutely aware of the difference between herself and her family in regard to the nature of their respective preoccupations, aspirations and general way of apprehending the world. In this regard Augusta recognizes the disjuncture which is often the consequence of one family member aiming for and achieving a significantly higher level of education than the others. At different stages of her life Augusta observes those forces which both bind and create distance within her family along with the changes in the dynamics of these over time.
Both Augusta’s and Parfait’s stories entail loss, forms of loss which are a part of life for many and then other more profound forms which mark a person’s life forever. While the pain and emotional dislocation of grief are made clear in each of their respective stories both Augusta and Parfait come to an understanding of those aspects of life which aid in healing the wounds of deep and life shattering loss.
I have no doubt that many readers will delight in this humorous, sad, insightful, warm and generous spirited book. In The Other Half of Augusta Hope Joanna Glen has given us a gem.