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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 21, 2013
This story takes you into the lives of four very strong characters in different times and in different places.

It was wintertime in Montreal in the year 1996, when GRACE Tomlinson, a psychologist, was cross-country skiing on Mount-Royal. One of her clients had cancelled and so she was free to go skiing while it was still light. One skier had been there before her, leaving a path of parallel stripes. She crouched down and picked up speed and when she turned the bend she tripped over the body of a man. When Grace caught her breath she asked him if he was okay. He didn't respond. She knelt down to check the pulse in his neck. Grace noticed he had a rope around his neck and a branch was broken off. She untied the rope, loosened his clothes and skied off to the Chalet to call 911. In French, she tried to explain where in the woods they were. The Urgence Sante men arrived and took the man to the hospital. Grace followed them in her car. The Urgence Sante men assumed they were a couple. She wasn't sure why she was following, but she was curious to find out what would drive him to hang himself. Later on, she found out his name was John Tugwell. She waited for him and drove him home. Grace stayed with TUG, the name he told her to call him. She didn't want to leave him alone for fear he would try it again. Why did Tug want to end his life? Grace was interested to find out and she would soon find out so much more.

ANNIE Hardwick was sixteen years old and a patient of Grace. She aspired to be an actress. Her father was an orthodontist and her mother a lawyer. Annie's problem was cutting herself, inflicting self-injury. She had an assignment to do from her last session. She gave it to Grace. She wrote that she was pregnant. Annie told Grace not to tell her parents, but Grace said that she couldn't do that. Annie was under age and Grace had to tell them. Annie left the office. Grace told her to remember that she had options. It was January, 2002, when Annie ran away to New York to pursue an acting career. She met a guy named Larry in her acting class, who told her about an apartment on the Lower East Side where the rent was cheap. He had hoped to have sex with her in exchange. Her name was now Anne. Anne took the apartment and dropped the class. She had enough money to tide her over while she looked for a job as a temp in an office and then found a bit part in a play. One day, when she returned home she found a homeless person sleeping in the lobby of her building. Anne thought the person was a male. The next day he was still there. There was a smell of urine wafting up the stairwell. A neighbour was about to call the police when Anne went to talk to the person and found out the person under the smelly blanket was a girl. The girl told Anne she was hungry and wanted to use her shower. Anne said okay. The girl's name was Hilary. She too was a runaway. Anne made her a sandwich and gave her some clothes. In exchange for room and board, Hilary kept the house tidy. Anne was wondering why she allowed her to stay, but soon enough Anne found out. Gradually they became strange, unlikely roommates.

MITCH, a clinical psychologist, was married to Grace. After a time, Mitch met a woman, Martine, on the day her divorce became final. She was forty-five years old, a lawyer, very smart and sexy. Martine had a son Mathieu, who was a difficult child. He had Asperger's. Martine's ex husband left her because he couldn't cope with it. Mitch fell in love with Martine and her son. Soon after, their relationship became strained and he felt he had to get away. In 2006, Mitch received a contract to spend a few months in Iqaluit. His skills were needed in the native community. The money was great and there was a lack of healthcare in the north. The problems were numerous eg drugs, alcohol abuse, depression, violence etc. It was there that Mitch met Thomasie, a young boy with a lot of problems. Mitch was going to help straighten him out.

Inside is a thought-provoking read. The characters all have problems of their own and yet they insist on putting all their energies into saving others. Perhaps in that way, they won't have to deal with their own problems.

Alix Ohlin's writing is smooth and at the same time captivating. She draws you in from the beginning and holds your interest to the very end. I enjoyed this novel and can highly recommend it.

Inside was a Finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 6, 2012
Alix Ohlin is a writer born in Montreal, now living in Pennsylvania. She has been praised by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee as "a skillful storyteller, quick-witted and wry."

The novel opens with a striking scene of Grace experiencing sudden disorientation on a wintry Mount Royal in Montreal:

"Now, at the end of January, it had finally snowed all night and all day, at last enough to ski on. She slipped around the Chalet and headed into the woods, losing the vista of Montreal below, gaining muffled silence and solitude, the trees turning the light even fainter. One skier had been here before her, leaving a path of parallel stripes. On a slight downhill slope she crouched down and picked up speed as she moved around a bend.

Turning, she saw the branch or whatever it was too late. Though she tried to slow down, she wasn't quick enough and ran right into it and was knocked out of her skis, falling sideways into the snow, realizing only when she sat up that what had tripped her was the body of a man.

The air torn from her returned slowly, painfully, to her burning lungs. When she could breathe she said, `Are you all right?' There was no answer (...) Kneeling down to check his pulse, she saw the rope around his neck. Thick and braided, it trailed beneath him, almost nestled under his arm, and the other end rested on a snowbank - no, was buried underneath it - and on the other side she could see that the branch it had been tied to had broken off."

Inside follows up on this engaging opening scene of attempted suicide with the story of four characters - Grace, a therapist, and 3 others who are - or have been - connected closely to her.

"Grace" is a clever choice of name for the protagonist, because grace is in fact a central theme in the book. How uplifting it can be, but also how accidental, arbitrary, and ultimately inseparable from the gray zones and mixed motives that constitute human nature.

Recommended !
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New York Times book reviewer William Giraldi called it "insufferable schmaltz." The Giller committee short-listed it for one of Canada's most prestigious literary awards. Montreal-born Alix Ohlin's "Inside" has certainly provoked strong reactions, enough to make me curious about the origin of all the fuss.

The opening of Ohlin's novel describes Montreal psychotherapist, Grace, cross-country skiing on Mount Royal, where she comes across a man lying face down in the snow. She soon realizes that the man has unsuccessfully hanged himself from a tree and, instantly, Ohlin reveals the story's central questions: when someone has suffered something terrible, how far does another person's duty go to help? What do the helper's motives become beyond simple instinct?

In subsequent chapters, the rest of the book's cast emerges. Annie, Grace's self-harming teenager patient, eventually pursues an acting career in New York, where a runaway who reminds her of herself takes over her life; Tug, that man in the snow, tries to shake the demons of an encounter with a gruesome episode of African history; and Mitch, Grace's ex-husband, flees a troubled new relationship to do social work in the Canadian north and quickly finds himself in over his head.

Ohlin gives each character's story equal weight, partially overlapping them across time and place. This method can seem daunting to the reader and perhaps the author's strength as a short story writer gets in the way of writing a fully cohesive novel. Indeed, at times "Inside" reads more like a collection of linked stories containing disorienting shifts in space and time. But, if the reader pays close attention, Ohlin’s combination of smooth prose, thematic complexity and structural ambition makes for an equally accessible and demanding novel.
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on December 3, 2012
This is the first book I've read by author Alex Ohlin, and as cliche as it sounds, it really was the type of novel that completely drew me into the lives of the four characters she portrays. The stories were heartbreaking and real, and I grew to actually care about the characters and the troubles they were facing. I couldn't put it down. If you're looking for action and adventure it's probably not the best choice, but if you like a good character-driven novel then I highly reccomend it.
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on December 14, 2013
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.
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on January 20, 2014
This book was heartbreakingly sad and depressing. I thought it was really well written, and I "liked" the characters in the sense that they were fascinating (although they were mostly quite unlikeable). The main negative point is that I found the book ended abruptly. I didn't like not knowing what became of the characters. Did any of them find happiness? You can sort of assume how things ended but only in a very vague way. This made me almost hate the book by the time I finished it. I hate not knowing. I wanted more. But it's definitely a book that completely absorbs you, and I found myself thinking about the characters days after I read it. So overall...loved reading it. Didn't want to put it down. But also hated it.
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on January 21, 2013
Positives: Loved the author's writing style when she described scenes, emotions and of descriptions of Canadian scenes. The characters sounded real. Very easy read.

Cons: Lack of action. Unfortunately, the author wasted too much time describing the scene, the characters inner perceptions and emotions, but forgot to add action. I kept reading hoping for something to happen, only to be left with a bunch of depressed characters who felt lonely all the time and it ended with no twist or surprise, nothing, just a bland mix of sadness. Don't read this book if you're depressed it will only make you want to kill yourself!
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on November 6, 2013
This book really intrigued me when I chose it, and it really lived up to all the intrigue.
We are introduced to our two central characters Grace and Tug right from the first chapter., and then you find yourself hooked reading about them and all the other characters in this book. This book hops back and forth between current being 2006 and past being 1996. The characters and their stories intertwine, and the writing is very exceptional. So much about this book is relatable to life and circumstances which change peoples lives and their destinies. Excellent short read. Will definitely seek another of her books, like maybe her other novel The Missing Person.
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on February 16, 2013
The characters left me somewhat dissatisfied as did the ending. That said, I loved the concept of lives intertwined. Never knowing what action or inaction affected someone else greatly.I enjoyed the different snapshots shown but it usually left me wanting more or with unanswered questions. The book is well written and kept me interested but by the end I did feel let down.
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on January 27, 2013
Being from montreal, I instantly recognized the landmarks the author described with such vivid details. Just how much help can we be to each other as human beings, if the person we are tying to help does not want attention? The subject is broached with a sense of longing and a desperation only a true author can achieve. Definately a masterpiece of art.
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