Caravaggio painted two versions of the risen Christ at supper in Emmaus with two disciples after he had walked and talked with them unrecognized along the road. In one, Caravaggio puts a small feast before them and portrays Jesus with a youthful face. The other picture places a sparer repast on the table and Jesus looks as though the sufferings of his life had stamped his post-crucifixion countenance too. But both paintings depict Jesus fulfilling his promise that "where two or three gather in my name, there will I be also." As Luke, chapter 24 informs, when the disciples recognize their master, he "vanishes," and the two remind each other that their hearts were "burning inside us as he talked to us on the road."
In THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU, Dr. David McBride, a psychiatrist and analyst, in time views both paintings, one habitually exhibited in his native England and the other in Italy. He discovers in them a message...one he even conveys to a skeptical assemblage of his professional peers in place of the case studies he had prepared. His fellow psychiatrists appear puzzled rather than enlightened, but for the reader, McBride's remarks crystallize the ways art and the experiences of the characters have integrated....
For the doctor we meet initially is a man still mourning the loss of his older brother to a lorry accident when they were children. And he's also a man who carries on with a marriage that superficially floats along, but really is sinking. He's damaged and unable to connect, and his preoccupation with survivor's guilt feeds his desire to understand the minds of those who are inclined to commit suicide.
At a small psychiatric hospital called St. Christopher's, one of those who has attempted to end it all is Mrs. Elizabeth Cruikshank. At first she is a hard nut to crack, sitting silently through her sessions with McBride. But one afternoon, they stumble on a mutual appreciation for Caravaggio, and this leads to a marathon seven-hour session in which the previously recalcitrant patient reveals herself. But she does not do this as an entirely one-sided effort. McBride also contributes, showing the tender parts of himself. He isn't discarding his professional ethics by crossing forbidden boundaries; rather, he is shaping an empathetic meeting of the minds that will allow his patient to unburden herself in an environment of shared humanity.
Her hidden story is a love story that she fleshes out with the comedies of life and its own bittersweet ironies and inevitabilities. The questions of what defines "love" swirl around. Must love, to be a successful exchange, be unconditionally accepted when it is unconditionally and fully given? And what responsibility must one shoulder if one fails to wholly embrace love once it is offered? This is perhaps the pivotal consideration that both doctor and patient -- two kindred souls -- face.
In their marathon, Elizabeth and David, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, discuss "all that happened" and in the process they become "[t]wo people with open hearts, and the willingness to speak from them" to "create a reality more powerful and salient than either individual."
Salley Vickers has crafted a beautiful contemplation on the human potentialities for bonding. The novel is both encouragement and admonition that opportunities that arise to share burning hearts ought not be carelessly wasted or cast aside out of fear.
THE OTHER SIDE OF YOU is a poignant read and one to be cherished.