Book Review: The Opposite Of Amber by Gillian Philip + Part 4 of Big Gype!

They found the fifth girl right after the snow melted …the place where he left her was winter water, crazed with ice-feathers and dusted with snow. The traces from her body were gone, the ones that said his name, but she had an extra skin of ice that protected her and she looked perfect, like Snow White’.

Ruby and her older sister Jinn live together on their own, just about making ends meet. Jinn is beautiful, with glittering blonde hair, and makes it her business to look after Ruby. They are horrified by, but try to ignore, the local newspaper stories of prostitutes who are murdered, their bodies eventually discovered underwater. Then the no-good Nathan Baird turns up on the scene – again – and Jinn starts to change. First Nathan moves in with Jinn and Ruby, making Ruby feel an outsider, and then Jinn and Nathan move out, leaving Ruby alone. Jinn no longer has time to look after Ruby. And it seems to Ruby that Jinn herself needs looking after. Her beautiful glittering hair starts to lose its shine. And then Jinn disappears.

A deeply moving, chilling, and incredibly powerful thriller that celebrates the love two sisters have for each other and mourns the events beyond their control that will conspire to drive them apart.

The Opposite Of Amber is a surprising book. Firstly, I presumed from the publishers blurb on the back it was going to be a murder mystery, tense and full of suspense. It isn’t like that at all really, although there is an element of mystery about it. It’s really about the relationship between two sisters, Ruby and Jinn and their lives in a run down Scottish seaside town and the traumas which haunt both them and their fellow residents. The second surprising thing was how hooked I actually became to this book. It started off quite slow and I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it, yet before I knew it the story of Ruby and Jinn had crept right under my skin and didn’t let go.

Told in the first person from Ruby, Gillian Philips places the reader directly in this character’s head. Ruby’s had a lot to deal with over the years and as a result doesn’t talk much, so her thoughts are particularly important to the story. They are written so well it’s impossible not to become fully involved and care for her and I found her love for Jinn, the sister who brought her up, very touching.
The setting also came across beautifully through both the characters and descriptions. I know towns and people like the ones in The Opposite Of Amber and Philip’s portrays them with shocking truth.

The Opposite Of Amber is brutally honest both in language and themes and isn’t the easiest book to read but it is a worthwhile one. It’s beautifully written using enough dialect and slang to make the characters and setting believable without alienating those who may be unfamiliar with it. This is a book which will open your eyes, make you think and whose main characters Ruby and Jinn will haunt you long after the last page.

Published by Bloomsbury April 2011
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

Due to a last minute hitch we’re stepping in to provide the final part of Big Gype, Gillian’s online exclusive short story featuring characters from The Opposite Of Amber. You can read the first three pieces at 1. Book Babblers 2. Here (where you can also enter to win one of five copies of The Opposite Of Amber) and 3. The Overflowing Library Enjoy!

Big Gype 4

‘What the feck are you doing carrying a knife?’
‘That—that kind of thing. That just happened. Never thought I’d. Really do it.’
‘You didn’t, right?’
We were both gasping for breath and her face was white under the streetlamps, bone-white. Don’t suppose mine was much better. I never used a blade on anyone before; never. I hadn’t thought it would take such force to plunge it in. I hadn’t thought the feeling would tingle up my hand and into my arm. I hadn’t thought he’d bleed so much.
Jinn had begun to cry, glinting starlit tears streaking her face. ‘D’you think he’s dead?’
‘Nah. He ran off, didn’t he?’
‘We are gonnae be in so much trouble.’
‘No you’re not. I am. I’m not gonnae tell them it was yours. Christ, those knives are a fiver in Tesco. I’ll get you home. Right? I’ll see you tomorrow.’
‘Nathan? When you get me home.’
‘Gonnae stay?’
I did.
The little sister was fast asleep, so Jinn’s mother had taken the chance to go out for a drink. She was even later back than we were, and I was out earlier in the morning, so it wasn’t a problem.
I don’t think it would have been a problem anyway. Poor Jinn.
Me, I had a problem, and its name was Dad. When I sloped home in the grey dawn, he was still up waiting. I can’t tell you how unusual this was, but he had his reasons.
‘Nathan,’ he said. ‘Christ almighty, Nathan.’
His eyes were red and sleepless and his face was about as grey as mine. I was a bit surprised he didn’t look angrier. He looked more scared than furious, and you know, that was worse.
‘Richie Muir,’ he said.
‘Richie Muir!’ This time he yelled it. ‘Did you get in a scrap with him yesterday?’
My tongue hovered over a lie, but on balance there didn’t seem any point.
‘You know he works for Christy Fyfe? Christy Fyfe, the big sonofabitch I owe money to?’
No, but I’d guessed it by now. Nothing else would have put the frighteners on my dad like this. ‘That Richie Muir’s a bastard,’ I said sullenly.
‘He’s a dangerous bastard.’ Dad raked his hands across his thinning hair, and I realised he was even older than I thought.
I licked my lips, my heart thudding. ‘You mean he still is?’ Thank God for that anyway.
He gave me a look that was all reproach. ‘If you were going to do it, you might have made a better job of it.’
I thought about that. Still I was glad I hadn’t.
‘So what are we going to do?’
‘Do? We’re gonnae leave, obviously. And we won’t be back till Richie Muir’s dead.’ His voice softened a bit. ‘Not that unlikely, since you’re not the first to stick a blade in him. And you won’t be the last. Go and pack.’
‘What, now?’
‘Now. Today. Get your stuff.’
Surprising how the first panicked thought in my head was of Jinn. But I couldn’t take her. Obviously.
No. Couldn’t.
I had to tell her. It was harder than I’d have believed possible a month ago. It almost made it worse that she put such a bright face on it, and smiled, and stroked my cheek like she really was sad for me.
‘It’s my fault,’ she said. ‘Sorry.’
‘Don’t be,’ I said, ‘’cos it isn’t.’
I skimmed another pebble across the lapping water and counted.
‘Six,’ she corrected me, squinting into the light. ‘You ever coming back?’
I put my hands in my pockets. ‘I’ve got to go,’ I said, and kissed her.
Biting her lip, she looked past my shoulder. ‘I’ll miss you.’
My dad swung open the car door, tapped his fingers on the wheel, smoothed his sweating bald patch. I turned back to Jinn.
‘I’ll come back, yeah.’
I smiled. I kissed her again, properly this time.
‘I’ll bring you a present,’ I said.


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