October Book Club: Another Life
Welcome to our October book club choice!
Another Life is Jodie Chapman’s debut novel, though it is an assured, in-depth and complex first offering. The premise of the novel is that it is about love, in all forms. Sibling love, marital love, parental love, relationship love and more, all of it important and vital to our development as people. The story follows Nick, who in the heatwave of 2003 meets Anna, an enigmatic girl also working part-time at the local cinema. She is quiet, mysterious, and keeps to herself, it's only later Nick realises she is part of a local ‘cult’, which the reader comes to understand refers to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Like all good love stories, Nick and Anna could not be more different, but they fall in love despite, or perhaps because of, their differences. Through Anna, Chapman shows the intense inner turmoil people go through when choosing whether to leave their religion. Anna is torn between her desires for Nick and to live a ‘normal’ life, or the choice to remain with her family and stay faithful to her religion. Nick’s upbringing, on the other hand, is marred by tragedy and a father who doesn’t know how to love his sons. Chapman’s depiction of Nick’s mother is heart wrenching and insightful, I often feel mothers don’t occupy very life-like spaces in novels, but this character is fully-fleshed out and relatable.
Despair remains a recurrent theme throughout the novel, and the darker parts are sometimes upsetting to read. It feels all the more relatable as a result; the nonlinear plot structure reminds us that life isn’t just about aiming for one goal or one central happiness, but remains an ongoing battle for comfort and security. Though the novel starts in Nick’s teens as he meets Anna, it also stretches to the future and their later meetings, and back to Nick’s childhood with his tormented father. These flashes of insight hammer home the point that our upbringings can shape us in ways we don’t even realise, but it’s the help of future human connections that help us to break out of uncomfortable moulds.
In a brief note at the end of the novel, we learn that Chapman herself was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and later chose to leave the religion. Learning this at the end of the novel adds a whole new insight into Anna’s struggle throughout the story. As a result, it feels like a very personal tale, thrumming with real-life experiences and emotions.
If you like reading novels that explore human connections in all their varied and sometimes painful forms, this will definitely satisfy you. Nostalgic, sweet and sad, I read it in only a couple of sittings. Please tell us what you thought of the book via social media or by commenting on this post!