The girls know this isn't true, though: Helen is the leader and Ellie the follower.
Until they decide to swap places: just for fun, and just for one day.
But Ellie refuses to swap back ...
And so begins a nightmare from which Helen cannot wake up. Her toys, her clothes, her friends, her glowing record at school, the favour of her mother and the future she had dreamed of are all gone to a sister who blossoms in the approval that used to belong to Helen. And as the years pass, she loses not only her memory of that day but also of herself, until eventually only 'Smudge' is left.
Twenty-five years later, Smudge receives a call from out of the blue. It threatens to pull her back into her sister's dangerous orbit, but if this is her only chance to face the past, how can she resist?
Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is published by Bloomsbury on 14 January 2016.
Helen and Ellie are twins. Helen leads and Ellie follows. Helen is quick witted, bright and popular, Ellie is slower and awkward, prone to accidents and often scolded. When Helen decides that they will swap places, just for a while, to see how long they can get away with it, Ellie gladly agrees.
Ellie likes being Helen. She doesn't want to change back. Helen hates being Ellie, she's desperate to get back into her own clothes again, to receive smiles and love from their mother, to be top of the class and have lots of friends. Ellie has taken on more of Helen's personality than either of them bargained for, she's not going back. She's going to be the clever one, the fabulous one.
The reader is taken back and forth throughout this story. Twenty five years later and we discover that Helen is still living life as Ellie, but she's also known as Smudge. She's suffered dreadfully throughout her life and is tortured by voices in her head, living in poverty and squalor, battling the mental illness that has taken over her life.
Meanwhile Ellie, as Helen has had the life that everyone expected for her. She has a husband and a small daughter, but has been seriously injured in an accident and is lying in a coma. Smudge is contacted by the girls' mother, and travels to see 'Helen' in her hospital bed.
I found myself asking many questions whilst reading Beside Myself. I wondered if two small girls, one of whom was already damaged by an accident at birth, could pull this off. However, revelations at the end of the book will answer that, and other questions that any reader may have.
There is a savagery in Ann Morgan's writing that made me gasp, the story is unsettling and brutal, but it is also an incredible insight into how a person can descend into the dark deep pit of mental illness, and also how those that are supposed to love and care can push that person over the edge, with hardly any thought about it.
Beside Myself is a challenging read, it is deep and complex and the characters are flawed and troubled, and in the case of the girls' mother; actually evil and neglectful. Despite this, this is a novel that hooks from page one, and keeps reeling the reader in, deeper and deeper until fully immersed in this very unsettling story.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.
Ann Morgan was born in London in 1982. Her first book, Reading The World, was published in 2015 and grew out of a project to read a book from every country.
Her debut novel, Beside Myself is published by Bloomsbury in January 2016.
As well as writing, she is a professional choral singer, and lives in Forest Hill, south-east London.
For more information about Ann Morgan and her writing, check out her website; www.ayearofreadingtheworld.com
A Year of Reading the World also has a Facebook page
Follow her on Twitter @A_B_Morgan