Review: The Origins of Iris by Beth Lewis

This is an extraordinary book; unsettling and challenging, unexpected and compelling.

Iris isn’t an easy character to connect with when you first meet her—goofy is an horrendous term to describe her, given where the rest of the book goes, but it’s the first impression one gets. It undermines her, it invites us to judge her, dismiss her a little, but thats when you find yourself poised to occupy exactly the kind of privileged shelf from which to look down on a woman in the kind of danger she’s been in, and the reality of your own prejudices puts such an edge on her story. From there, she drags you into her mess so convincingly, you can’t look away.

Iris’s history of grief and blame plays out in all the expected ways, but there’s no simple villain in this story, and it’s the suggestions of respite and repair in her relationship with her wife, that invariably come to naught, that make it so harrowing. But by running this narrative directly alongside a manifestation of how her life could have been, in the body of the mysterious Other Iris who finds her—despairing and physically damaged —in the woods, the tension is pushed to unexpected highs, especially as Iris contemplates using this moment of entangled universes to switch over to the better life she missed out on. It’s the ultimate experience of torturing yourself with regret, and my heart absolutely broke watching both versions of this woman struggle with the same background demon.

Fans of Sarah Pinborough’s speculative-tinged bestsellers—Behind Her Eyes, especially—will find this a particularly good book compelling read. Absorbing, affecting, shocking, I would happily recommend this to anyone.

I also particularly loved the raccoon.

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