Narrelle M Harris

Pulp Fiction Press (2007)

ISBN: 9780975112922

Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in December 2008)

There are a lot of supernatural dark fantasies about at the moment, so for Pulp Fiction Press to take a chance on a relatively unknown author in this genre, they must believe the story is something special. In this case, it’s a pleasant surprise to find they were not far off the mark. In The Opposite of Life, Harris has taken quite a different turn in the paranormal field

While there’s nothing terribly new here, the treatment of the protagonist and the vampires involved in the story is just a little unusual. This is especially evident in the description of Gary, the vampire that our hero, Lissa, gets to know best:

The brightly coloured tropical shirt was a dead giveaway. It was unbuttoned, revealing a faded green T-shirt which tightened slightly around the middle and flowed over the top of equally faded blue jeans. His mop of untidy, light brown hair topped a round, pale face. Beneath the fringe, a pair of hazel eyes blinked owlishly at us.

Later, he’s referred to as “… the tubby guy in the tropical shirt”. A far cry from the ridiculously gorgeous brooding vampires normally encountered in this type of book! It makes a nice change.

The protagonist, Lissa, is a librarian, not a superhero, and although she comes prepared to take on the world, underneath she is a hurt little girl, still mourning the loss of a sister and brother at quite young ages, and the subsequent distancing of her parents that followed. This too is nothing new, as most of the heroines of these type of books have family issues or other flaws. What is different is the way Lissa presented; not overly whiney, not uncomfortably argumentative, not insanely suicidal. Just an ordinary girl who’s had more than her fair share of life’s hard knocks.

Another point of interest is the setting. I don’t know Melbourne well – I’ve visited a couple of times but never truly explored – but there is a very strong sense of what it means to be part of the rich and varied Melbourne night life in this book. The setting is very much as part of the book as the characters, and although this is not normally something I notice in a novel, it is integral to this one. Alongside this, the ‘feel’ of the book is something quite different from others in the genre; even the Riley Jensen books by fellow Aussie Keri Arthur don’t have quite the same sense of the Australian about them. But it is not a broad ocker Australianism that tries too hard to capture the national identity; it simply is. It is a very hard quality to capture or describe, but I think Harris has done it successfully.

There is a certain clunkiness in some parts of the writing, but these are things a writer of more experience will iron out of her storytelling. In spite of this, the book was a good read, and it drew me along – I have a To Read pile as big as a bookcase and I didn’t feel I wasted my time on this.

As I noted previously, there is nothing truly innovative in the book. Having said that, I did not see the ending coming, and although I wasn’t necessarily satisfied with some aspects of it, the finale made sense in terms of the novel itself. In all, The Opposite of Life was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday, and it is deserved of a place on your list of books to read if you like the paranormal genre.