Posted in Random Things Tours

The Other Daughter by Caroline Bishop.

You only get one life – but what if it isn’t the one you were meant to live?

‘When it finally arrived I was shocked to see it; to read the words Mum wrote about these women fighting for rights I know I take for granted. Mum was here. And while she was, something happened that changed the entire course of my life. Perhaps, if I can summon the courage, the next eight weeks will help me finally figure out what that was . . .’

When Jessica discovers a shocking secret about her birth, it affects every area of her life. Her grief leaves her struggling at work and home, and sadly affects her feelings about being a mother. She takes advice from her godmother to take a break and she leaves her London home to travel to Switzerland in search of answers. There she takes a job as a nanny while researching her mother. She knows her journalist mother spent time in the country forty years earlier, reporting on the Swiss women’s liberation movement. What she doesn’t know, is what happened to her while she was there. Can Jess summon the courage to face the truth about her family, or will her search only hurt herself and those around her even more?

The story is told across two timelines. Jess in 2016 is just separated from her husband and taking a sabbatical from work. She has discovered a secret about her birth and wants more information. She knows her mother travelled to Switzerland in 1976 to research their fight for women’s rights. Women only gained the right to vote in 1971 after a referendum and I have always found this surprising. Sylvie travels there on hard won expenses trip. Her boss fails to see the value in an article on women’s rights, but she wins him round. I understood Sylvie’s journalistic interest in how late this date was, so I was interested as she convinced her editor to send her out to Switzerland in pursuit of the story around women’s suffrage in the country.

There was a slow beginning to the book, and it took me a while to gel with the characters. I was so glad I stuck with it though, because this was a slow burner and I became really involved with this family’s story. I know from working as a therapist, how difficult it can be for people to cope with secrets from the past, or an absence of knowledge about where they’re from. It’s this knowledge that Jess is looking for, in order to feel grounded. However, I also know that revelations about our history and background can leave us feeling adrift. We build a narrative about who we are and where we’re from; if that is shattered our sense of self can be too. The author really shows psychological insight, weaving these personal histories into a historical narrative – how Switzerland has treated women, including their legal right to participate in the democratic process and even their rights over their own bodies. I think Jess is so well rounded. There are so many layers to her character, and the deeper historical background mean she felt so real to me. I felt so invested in her story.

The revelations that come through Jess’s digging, but also through Sylvia’s narrative, take us down a path towards the truth. However, truth and written history are often two very different things. I feel that the author is clearly making a point about how a country’s history is written with an agenda. Often minorities and their experiences are erased from history and we need to move beyond the official version of events. I was worried that the truth Jess so desperately needed might not be real and she would be shattered again. The author has so much skill at creating a sense of place, both at the Swiss end and in London. She slowly drew me in and I became so involved in these character’s lives. There were times when they brought a lump to my throat, my emotions were so invested. This is an incredible debut and I look forward to more from this talented writer.

Meet The Author

Caroline is a British freelance writer currently living in Switzerland.

​In the past 15 years or so she has written about travel, food and theatre for newspapers, magazines and websites including The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, BBC Travel, Adventure Travel, France magazine and others. She was also the editor of anglophone Swiss news site TheLocal.ch for two years, during which time she became fascinated with aspects of Swiss history and culture, particularly the evolution of women’s rights, which forms the backdrop to The Other Daughter, her debut novel. 

Visit Caroline’s website at http://www.carolinebishop.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @calbish and Instagram/Facebook @carolinebishopauthor