The Opposite of Life by Narelle Harris: The Right Book at the Right Time.
January 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
Twenty-three year old Lissa doesn’t go out much – she prefers to stay at home with a glass of wine and a poetry anthology – but when her boyfriend dumps her, her best friend insists on taking her out to help take her mind off things. Out on the town in Melbourne, Lissa has a great time and even strikes up a potential romance with one of Evie’s friends. And then people start dying.
In the nightclubs in Melbourne, bodies are turning up, drained of their blood and abandoned in bathroom stalls. Every time it happens, Lissa seems to be near, so she decides to find out exactly what’s going one. Surely, it can’t be vampires?
I picked up this book out of general interest, because it was printed by Pulp Fiction Press. Regular readers will know that Pulp Fiction is my favourite bookstore. I trust the staff’s genre-specific knowledge and never hesitate to pick up their recommendations, so I was curious to read a book that they deemed worthy of publishing! Despite trusting Pulp, I was a little bit surprised to find that I genuinely loved this book! I gave up on vampire fiction long ago, but I think Ms Harris has restored my faith in the genre.
THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE gets off to a rocky start. It took me time to warm to the characters and to get a feel for its ‘voice’, but the second half passed by in a blur. I felt as though I was being kept company by Lissa, with whom I felt a certain undeniable sense of kinship (book-obsessed, questionable fashion sense, something of a loner – should I sue the author for copyright of my personality?).
This book is dark in an unexpected way. We’re used to vampire books having dangerous men, seductive women, exposure to erotic pain, etc. But this book was quite different. Through Lissa, Harris uses vampirism as a means to tackle the reality of death and its permanent, cumulative effect.
Lissa has endured significant loss by the tender age of twenty-three. Her parents’ marriage broke down when her younger sister died of a brain tumour. Unable to cope with the stress of a dysfunctional family life, Lissa’s younger brother Paul overdosed and died, leaving Lissa and her older sister Kate to cope with the remnants of their family. Hardened against personal tragedy, Lissa simply shuts down when something stressful appears on the horizon – a trait I found all too relatable.
When Lissa’s acquaintances start dying, she responds to the murders with an aggressive righteousness befitting one who has lost too much in her life already. Interestingly, the vampires in this book are genuinely quite repulsive – they are murderers, and their ‘life’ holds no seductive intrigue. While they are immortal, the vampires have sacrificed living brain function, meaning that they no longer have the capacity to learn new skills or to respond to stimuli in an emotional context. Upon being introduced to the world of Melbourne’s archaic vampires, Lissa finds herself drawn to a life where she would no longer be able to feel emotional pain. Harris presents us with an interesting take on the emotional and psychological effects of joining the undead. What kind of effect would a choice like this have on your psyche?
Ultimately, Lissa determines that it’s better to feel pain and loss than to numb it out. This struck quite a personal chord for me, as I’ve been struggling with something similar myself of late.
Lissa is an excellent protagonist. She’s realistically flawed, but after dealing with vampiric murders AND a stressful family situation, she undergoes a genuine change, and it’s heart-warming for all the right reasons.
The male lead Gary, isn’t all that big of a focal character. Gary’s a vampire with a hilariously mundane name. His social skills leave a lot to be desired, and he generates more awkward silences than he fills. Gary is invested in finding out who’s killing Melbourne clubbers, and he reluctantly allows Lissa to tag along for the ride. Depsite this, Gary’s presence in the narrative doesn’t take over Lissa’s own agenda. He’s a means to an end – an access card to the vampire world. He’s not even really a romantic interest, though there’s potential for him to become one. This is enormously refreshing, particularly in a vampire novel!
Also? Lissa is a librarian. Her descriptions of working in a library really struck a chord for me, and I began applying for courses to become a qualified librarian myself!
I could make an argument that this book is feminist, but I’d rather not have to defend such a strong statement to those who will inevitably equate vampire fiction with anti-feminism. Rather, let me just say that THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE about a pretty awesome girl who faces some pretty awful situations head-on. THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of stress and anxiety this makes it a highly relatable book. For me, this may have been a matter of the right book at the right time, but I feel entirely confident in telling you all to pay Pulp Fiction a visit to collect your copy. If you’re in Brisbane, or coming anytime soon, you can find Pulp Fiction in Central Station (look for the purple and yellow sign). Alternatively, if you’re an international reader, you can buy THE OPPOSITE OF LIFE for your ereader here at Amazon.
Thank you to Pulp Fiction for providing me with a copy of The Opposite of Life.