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Inside by Alix Ohlin

Inside (2012)

by Alix Ohlin

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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
"Let me out!" (response to the book "Inside").
The novel is arranged into chapters focusing on several different characters in different years; it hops back and forth between years and character viewpoints. I like that style, for it promises various insights that sometimes are dependently available only with the distance of time and other events.
Two of the characters are therapists, and the others are intricately enveloped by a therapy fog that feels like a displaced novel of the 70s. When the reader has to suspend disbelief as a coping mechanism for the implausibility of some events, then one expects to be rewarded for the effort. But instead, more stupidities ensue.
Like the characters in the novel who had trouble committing, I had difficulties committing to the characters.
Two stars, elevated to three for occasional gem flashes of prose stylings. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
I really enjoyed Alix Ohlin's novel, which centres on the lives of four troubled and complex characters. The book is a Giller finalist, but I've been persuading people who typically avoid reading "literature" to read this book. The book is very accessible and is a touching and page-turning read. The application of psychology, and the desires we humans feel to help others, [to save others], is key for the novel. The book looks at very real and terrible issues, such as suicide, teen pregnancy, sexuality, and one's self-worth.

The narratives are very distinct and will draw the reader into the troubled lives of Grace, Mitch and Annie. Inside is a touching and memorable read that stuck with me long after I finished it. The book is well-written and the plot lines of the characters support each other while also stand on their own as their own realistic and slightly tragic story.

There is a darkness to everyone, even if you can't see it. The book puts a lot of weight on that you can't always see what's going on inside a person. You can't know their darkest secrets and what's weighing them down. You can't always help someone, no matter how hard you try. The world is a bitter and difficult place and not everyone copes well with the problems life deals us.

The characters were easy to imagine in my mind. I felt like I knew them and sometimes, that I was suffering along with them. As someone who has seen and dealt with friends and family who have suffered silently and alone with depression, anxiety, and the like, this novel really hit home with me.

This book was fantastic and a worthy contestant for the Giller! Ohlin is a talented writer, capable of weaving an intense and emotional story that will stay with you. I expect she will continue to provide wonderful pieces of Canadian literature. ( )
  loveofreading | Dec 29, 2013 |
Ohlin's project is quite ambitious: retracing the complex lives of three characters through various ages. She does this with some success, delving into the inner thoughts and emotions, explaining behaviours and heart-aches through experiences, tenuously linking the lives of the characters as they touch each other in seemingly profound ways.

Curiously, however, that is not enough. There is too much explaining about who the characters are and where they come from, but they don't grow into who they are; they are merely the product of their experiences. There is a reflection on life and death, its mysteries, but that ultimate question: "what are birth and death?" is left unanswered, leaving the book without substance and the end flat.

While I enjoyed reading it, and felt kindly towards the characters and their plights, this is not a book that will stay with me. ( )
  Cecilturtle | Aug 4, 2013 |
What happens inside, behind closed doors, in private moments, and in minds and hearts: that's the stuff of Alix Ohlin's novel.

"'He wouldn’t let me in,' she said, 'and I refused to stay out.'"

Mitch's mother says that of his father. She is not a character with whom readers spend a lot of time, but her statement resonates throughout Inside.

The characters with whom readers do spend time?

First, Grace, who is a therapist in Montreal, when readers meet her in 1996.

Next, Anne, to whom readers are introduced as one of Grace's patients when Annie is a teenager.

And Mitch, whose first appearance is in Grace's segment (she met him when he was a graduate student and she was beginning to study psychology), but readers meet him directly in Iqaluit, in 2006.

To varying degrees, each of these characters nestles in at least one of the other character's narratives. Where there is not a tangible overlap, there is a thematic overlap.

Grace, Anne, and Mitch are all struggling with what is inside, with what they keep inside, with what is inside the people they love. Also under consideration? Outside. How it's connected with inside, or the ways in which it's disengaged, questions about how the break(s) occurred.

It's a delicate balance. In life, and in the narrative.

"That’s how it went: one day lovely, the next flawed. In this respect, was it so much different from anybody else’s life?"

On a daily basis, perhaps not so much. One person's life is a lot like another's. There are ups and downs in working lives, romantic encounters, family life, and friendships: the details are interchangeable.

As Inside begins, the differences are apparent. Even the two therapists have starkly different workdays, from the outside.

(In under 300 pages, this novel manages to fully flesh out all three characters, complete with details about day-to-day life at home, work and their significant relationships: deftly drawn and wholly believable.)

Paradoxically, as the novel progresses, the insides begin to blur.

Some of the external differences remain distinct, though people's lives echo and intersect in the narrative too, but the emotional strain and struggle is almost interchangeable.

Readers looking for plot will be frustrated by the shifting perspectives and the sense of disconnection that arises if you are only observing the outsides of the characters' lives, which do overlap but not often enough to satisfy a plot-hungry reader.

The work's cohesion builds from the shared experiences in characters' insides. The bulk of the narrative's action is internal, viewed through each of these three character's experiences, and it is the gradual layering of emotional intensity, across their narratives, that roots Inside.

Each of the following passages is pulled from one character's perspective, but altering the pronouns allows them to fit with or reflect the other characters' experiences too:

"The gap between what he said and what she didn’t know swelled between them like a bubble that kept expanding; sometimes, when she reached out her arms to hold him, the bubble felt like all she could touch."

"He would have been the perfect man for some other, better version of herself."


"It felt not like a repetition of the previous triangle but a new version of it, from another angle. A pattern stretching across the recent years of his life."

(I was equally attached to all three characters, and so completely inhabited the perspectives as drawn that I missed things that I should have seen, if I'd had a reader's distance, and not been so engrossed in the story as relayed by the characters. In some ways this is wonderful, but there is a risk.)

Readers who enjoy psychological narrative, who appreciate stories preoccupied with "inside", even when they aren't overtly named as such, will be immediately at home with Alix Ohlin's novel.

The risk, however, is that insides are messy; the stories are told by those who have survived, and while there are moments of elation, there are moments of devastation. In that respect, it's not any different from anyone else's life.

(This discussion appeared on BuriedInPrint, in the context of the novel's shortlisting for the Giller Prize; you will find more detailed information about the novel here.) ( )
  buriedinprint | Apr 8, 2013 |
This is a story about taking control of your life, and living with the choices you make. It's about how we can never know what is really happening "inside" others.

This book didn't read like a novel; it was more a set of three inter-connected stories. I found that most of the characters lacked depth, and some of the situations were too contrived. Not bad overall, but not great. ( )
  LynnB | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Alix Ohlin's dynamic new novel "Inside" begins like a thriller: The body of a man is face down in the snow, discovered by a lone skier just as daylight is fading. Only the man isn't dead; he's a frustrated suicide who tried to hang himself from a tree on a lonely mountainside near Montreal, only to have the branch give way. Tug probably would have died of hypothermia if a highly competent therapist named Grace hadn't stumbled upon him a few minutes later. The intrigue is immediate; why did Tug want to die and why is seemingly sensible Grace so irresistibly drawn to him?
Alix Ohlin, who already has one promising novel and two short-story collections behind her, possesses an unsettling gift for the quotid­ian — the lulling, soothing quality of everyday life and speech — even as the most awful things occur. She writes about well-mannered, well-educated people, and surprisingly often, they choose the suicidal way out, a cosmic way of saying, “Excuse me, may I leave the room?”

There are four main characters in her new novel, “Inside”: Grace Tomlinson, a psychologist who has devoted her life to helping people; Mitch Tomlinson, her ex-husband and also a therapist, who takes Grace’s altruism to a national level and tries to save societies; John “Tug” Tugwell, who saw awful things when he was with a non-governmental organization; and Annie Hardwick, a much younger woman and client of Grace’s who wants to make it in the movies. Ohlin braids these lives together, although it must be said that Annie seems an uncomfortable addition, someone tacked on to balance out the comparatively mature — and glum — older folks.
added by kidzdoc | editWashington Post, Carolyn See (Jun 22, 2012)
Alix Ohlin’s wondrously engrossing second novel, “Inside,” and her second collection, “Signs and Wonders,” display her characteristic strengths — dynamic plots, keenly observed settings, and characters so idiosyncratic, ambivalent, and contradictory they could be your family, your neighbors, people you work with. She is particularly insightful when portraying couples navigating the raw and unpredictable emotional landscape of separation and divorce.

Ohlin tends to plunge right into the heart of the action. In the opening section of “Inside,’’ set in Montreal in 1996, Grace, a therapist who is one of four main characters in the novel, is cross-country skiing on Mount Royal. She is enjoying the “muffled silence and solitude” when she runs into a man on the ground. Kneeling to check his pulse, she sees the rope around his neck. For reasons she is unclear about herself, she follows Tug, the failed suicide, to the hospital, helps sign him out, drives him home, and stays the night to make sure he doesn’t try again.

Ohlin traces their growing relationship in a series of finely wrought scenes, shifting backward and forward in time, offering many surprises. There is a ringing authenticity to the ways in which Grace and Tug, both gun-shy after failed marriages, collide, connect, spin apart, and try again. Equally solid are the passages in which Ohlin traces the roots of Grace’s empathy for the suffering, and of Tug’s despair over what he had witnessed as an aid worker in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

Ohlin also follows Anne, one of Grace’s patients, from age 16, in 1996, into early adulthood when she is living on New York’s Lower East Side, building a career as an actress. Anne’s precarious childhood has made her a master of deception; her acting is fueled by the “secret high that came from thinking none of them knew her at all.”

The question of meaning hovers over Ohlin’s work. She has a rare gift for examining the confusions of the 21st century, exploring the ways in which addictions, afflictions, attractions, and random impulses shape our lives. Her intense and beautifully shaped new novel and stories offer tentative yet illuminating answers.
added by kidzdoc | editBoston Globe, Jane Ciabattari (Jun 10, 2012)
When self-pity colludes with self-loathing and solipsism backfires into idealism, the only outcome is insufferable schmaltz.

Ohlin’s language betrays an appalling lack of register — language that limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor..For a writer so invested in the bland earnestness of realism, Ohlin forces her characters to speak and behave like few humans from reality: her dialogue, by turns stenographic and saccharine, sounds transplanted from the desiccated pages of Danielle Steel. By book’s end you will have counted one rape, one attempted rape, one impromptu marriage proposal, one death by cancer, one attempted suicide, three successful suicides, two car crashes in a 10-page span, four unwanted or unexpected pregnancies for three different women and a miscarriage for a fourth — all of which speak to Ohlin’s narrative technique: when in doubt, impregnate or kill.
This scenario introduces Ohlin’s extremely readable blend of poignancy and sardonic humour, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. The novel follows three interconnected story strands: one featuring Grace and Tug; one featuring Annie, a patient of Grace’s; and one featuring Mitch, Grace’s ex-husband. In each of these storylines, Ohlin explores the consequences of helping another individual....Ultimately, they are human; whether the reader likes them or not doesn’t really matter, because they are so damned easy to relate to, and are presented in such head-shakingly honest ways that one can’t help but be sucked into the vortex of their lives.
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When Grace, a highly competent and devoted therapist in Montreal, stumbles across a man in the snowy woods who has failed to hang himself, her instinct to help immediately kicks in. Before long, however, she realizes that her feelings for this charismatic, extremely guarded stranger are far from straightforward. At the same time, her troubled teenage patient, Annie, runs away and soon will reinvent herself in New York as an aspiring and ruthless actress, as unencumbered as humanly possible by any personal attachments. And Mitch, Grace's ex-husband, a therapist as well, leaves the woman he's desperately in love with to attend to a struggling native community in the bleak Arctic. We follow these four compelling, complex characters from Montreal and New York to Hollywood and Rwanda, each of them with a consciousness that is utterly distinct and urgently convincing. With a razor-sharp emotional intelligence, Inside poignantly explores the manifold dangers and imperatives of making ourselves available to, and indeed responsible for, those dearest to us.
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Assisting a stranger who had just failed to commit suicide, therapist Grace realizes that she has developed feelings for the man, and her ex-husband leaves the woman he loves to attend to an Arctic community.

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