Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | Review

I should preface this review by saying I’m finding it very difficult to write about this book without spoiling the plot completely so this may not be the most engaging review I’ve written for this blog but I really do encourage you all to read it!

What struck me about ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman* was the character of Eleanor. I found her to be complex, intriguing, relatable and completely unlikeable for most of the book. As someone who has often struggled to fit in, I instantly connected to Eleanor’s loneliness and the comfort she took in her rigid routine. A boring, mindless job followed by an evening of drinking alone and eating oven cooked pizzas from Tesco is a routine I’m sure many readers will have experienced have experienced at some point in their lives. However, as we learn later in the novel, what sets Eleanor apart is that his routine is a coping mechanism and her way of dealing with some truly awful experiences.

Honesty, I found it difficult to get into the story at first. The opening felt as though it was dragging on.  I appreciate this being a plot device to highlight the monotony of Eleanor’s life, however, I feel it may put many people off and make them give up on the book early meaning they miss out on some really interesting character development. I also found Eleanor’s arrogance and judgemental nature to be very frustrating at times, although I forgive her for the things she says about her colleagues -they don’t seem like nice people at all.

When I first read the synopsis of this book I was intrigued but I also had some slight trepidation. It sounded as though it was going to be one of these stories where a woman falls in love with a man and is suddenly a better person because of it. Whilst there is definitely an element of that in the novel it is not the focus and it is dealt with well. Eleanor has an obsession with Raymond, an average (at best) musician, she seems willing to look past all his so called flaws because she is so infatuated with him. In actual fact, Eleanor’s feelings for him and the relationship that builds throughout the novel is only a fraction of the plot. The standout theme of the story is trauma, how it affects people and the lengths people will go to in order to cope with some awful experiences and just how difficult it can be to live a ‘normal’ life when someone has lived through said trauma.

In the simplest terms, this story says a lot about the judgments we pass on others and assumptions we make about people who don’t behave to our standard of normal. This is shown through Eleanor’s own prejudices and those of her co-workers who make very snap judgements about her. It is also reflected in the reviews of this book, with many people admitting they assumed Eleanor had Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism when they first started reading. This book challenges our assumptions about Eleanor and other people who we have deemed to be ‘odd’ or different.

Please don’t let a slightly slow start deter you from a fascinating, hilarious, surprising and heartbreaking read.

Have you read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

*An early copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley, however, all opinions are my own and I am not being paid for this review*

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | Review

Rereading books I love is something I do quite often. However, I very rarely reread books that I didn’t like, simply because I’m of the strong opinion that life is too short to read books you don’t like. During my first year of my English A level, I read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood* as part of my required reading and I did not like it one bit. When I saw the trailer for the new TV adaptation which has just come out in the UK, I thought I should give the book another try, and, for some reason, I absolutely loved it.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a dystopian novel set in America, now called Gilead. The country faces a fertility crisis so all fertile women, like the protagonist Offred (‘Of Fred’) are trained to be handmaids to infertile couples. Now, their only purpose in life is to have a baby for their commander and his wife.

So many of the themes in The Handmaid’s Tale have started to feel less like the stuff of dystopian fiction and more like things that are starting to emerge in society right now. Perhaps that new sense of relevance is what changed my mind about the novel. As I was reading, I was constantly highlighting lines that sounded as though they had come straight out of a recent news article. It’s terrifying that a book written in the 1980s which was supposed to be a very extreme example of what may happen if we do not protect women’s rights now feels so familiar to readers. What was so terrifying about this society was Atwood’s portrayal of the division between all the women. We see Offred’s inner conflict with her own beliefs and those of the Gileadian society which seemed to have been drilled into all the handmaid’s. So much so that it begins to permeate her own consciousness. Atwood shows this through Offred’s jealousy and hatred of Janine.

Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres, what sets ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ apart from most dystopian novels is that Atwood gives us a view of what life was like in “the time before”. Something I found particularly fascinating was the way so many of the characters were rebelling against the new society. Of course, this is the case in dystopian fiction but in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, almost every character we meet is rebelling in some way, even those in positions of power and privilege rebel as we see with The Commander and his wife.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is the kind of book one could read multiple times and find something new each time. I feel like my new found love for this book will only increase the more I read it.

Have you read ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Let me know what you thought in the comments, but no spoilers for the TV series, please!

Hamlet: Globe to Globe by Dominic Dromgoole | Review

It is very rare for me to get excited about a non-fiction book but I have been itching to write this review since I first started reading Dominic Dromgoole’s ‘Hamlet: Globe to Globe’.* It was one of those magical moments when you see a book in a bookshop and you know you will not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

After many years of studying English Literature and Drama, I have become something of a Shakespeare nerd. I could write a whole separate post on why I love Shakespeare so much and, spoiler alert, I probably will at some point. Whilst browsing through my local bookshop, I saw this book on the New Releases shelf and knew that I would not be able to leave the shop without buying that book.

2016 was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so as part of the ‘celebrations’ (it seems a weird word to use to describe the anniversary of someone’s death) Dominic Dromgoole, artistic director at The Globe set about organising a tour of Hamlet which in which the company performed in every country of the world. This book tells the story of that journey whilst exploring one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays and the effect it has had on the world since it was first written. Dromgoole shares some of the funniest, scariest and most moving moments of the tour interspersed with analysis of the play and the reception the company received in each country. It really is a fascinating read for any fan of Shakespeare or even theatre in general. My only criticism is that, at times, Dromgoole’s praise for Hamlet and Shakespeare felt, to me at least, as though Dromgoole thought Shakespeare is immune from all critique just because he is The Bard, but I suppose that is quite common if you are a big fan of somebody.

My only regret about this book was that I didn’t have it when I was studying Hamlet for my English A-level. Dromgoole offers a fascinating insight into the play as well as different ways it has been portrayed over the years. I often highlight passages I enjoy or turn down page corners as I’m reading but this book took that to a whole new level.  I was particularly intrigued to read about Charlotte Cushman, who was among one of the first women to play Hamlet. Seriously, Google that woman, she is brilliant.

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If you’re reading this and you enjoy or are studying Shakespeare, I strongly recommend you pick this book up!

Have you read Hamlet: Globe to Globe? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

 

‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon | Review

*This review contains spoilers! Proceed at your own risk*

Maddy has been ill her whole life. She is allergic to everything so must spend all day, every day inside. But, when a new family move in next door, Maddy starts yearning for more from her life.

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As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a real love/hate relationship with YA literature so I’m relieved and excited to say that I enjoyed ‘Everything, Everything’ by Nicola Yoon. *

There are so many characteristics of YA books that make me roll me roll my eyes but Nicola Yoon managed to deconstruct all of these. For example, a big pet peeve of mine is when teenagers speak to each other as though they are in a Jane Austen novel. To me, it feels like the author has completely misunderstood how teenagers speak and interact with each other. Maddy had a very distinctive style of speaking that could be seen as mature for her age, however, because Maddy spends her whole life at home, reading and researching, it makes sense that her vocabulary would be more advanced.

Of course with any book, there are always going to be aspects you dislike. For me, that came in thr character of Carla, Maddy’s nurse. Her job is to look after Maddy and to make sure she doesn’t become ill. However, Carla arranges for Maddy and Olly to meet and spend time together. Of course I understand why, she wants Maddy to be happy and have as ‘normal’ a life as possible.  Regardless, Carla had a duty of care, to allow Maddy to be in such a potentially dangerous situatuion was irresponsible. I realise the meetings were important to the progression of the narrative but it would have been more believable if they were organized by a friend or sibling.

I was also uncomfortable with the ending. There are so few stories about characters with disabilities or chronic illnesses. It was upsetting that Maddy’s discovery that her illness wasn’t real was seen as part of her happy ending. Personally, I would have found the ending much more realistic and inclusive if Maddy’s story ended with her and Olly living a beautiful life together with Maddy’s illness – trust me, it can be done!

What I loved about this story is that, at the heart, it was a very simple ‘boy meets girl and falls in love’ story.  Coupled with teenage hormones and Maddy’s determination to be more than her illness, it becomes a story of bravery, and experiencing a life full of extremes.

One thing Nicola Yoon demonstrated beautifully was Maddy’s determination not to be defined by her illness. The line “What am I if I’m not ill?” spoke to me in a way so many books featuring characters with disabilities have tried and failed to do.

‘Everything, Everything’ feels like the kind of novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ was trying to be (that’s not to say TFIOS is bad, it just didn’t work for me). On the whole, representation was better. Maddy and Olly were drawn to each other because of their personalities rather than Maddy’s illness. Maddy is also a person of colour, the fact that this surprised me whilst I was reading made me realise just how white my reading has been recently.

I can’t wait for the film to come out in the UK and to see this wonderful story played out on the big screen.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler | Review

All I knew about Amy Poehler before I found ‘Yes Please’ was that she played the brilliant Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. I’m not exactly sure what drew me to this book given that I knew little about her as a person, or even about the rest of her career outside of Parks and Rec. Whatever made me choose this book, I’m glad I did.

I listened to this as an audiobook. When I was getting ready in the morning, making dinner or couldn’t sleep at night, I’d turn the volume up and let Amy recount stories of her childhood and early working years. Like having coffee with a friend. It’s cliched, I know but at the time, I was unemployed and all my friends had recently moved to university. I was feeling lost and alone and little things like that really helped me. Hearing the book read in Poehler’s own voice really brings her words to life. So much so that it’s hard to say whether I would have enjoyed the book so much had I read it. Hearing the book read in Poehler’s own voice really brings her words to life. So much so that it’s hard to say whether I would have enjoyed the book so much had I read it myself.

It’s hard to describe what kind of book this is. It’s funny but it’s not a comedy book, and it’s not strictly speaking a memoir, although Poehler discusses many aspects of her personal life. At times it borders on a self-help book with advice on careers, love and overcoming pain,  “A person’s tragedies does not make up their entire life. A story carves deep grooves into our brains each time we tell it but we aren’t one story. We can change our story each time we tell it. We can write our own.”. This isn’t necessarily a criticism – that depends on your opinion on self-help books – but it took me by surprise.

Poehler’s honesty was refreshing and humorous, although she spent a good portion of the book complaining about how difficult it is to write a book which became tiresome at times. Her personality shone through every word of this book. I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful Poehler’s way with words is. She has such a wonderful way of phrasing things which never felt forced or contrived.

Have you read Yes Please? What did you think? I’m trying to read more non-fiction books this year so if you have any recommendations please let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is in the Air

Valentine’s day is less than a week away so it seems only right that I should recommend some of my favourite romantic reads. If, like me, you are not big fan of valentine’s day and plan to spend the day eating junk food and binge watching Friends, don’t worry, I’ve purposely chosen books which are not all about love. All of these books feature well-rounded characters with interesting lives and stories. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone!

  1. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

I can hardly talk about love stories without mentioning Bridget Jones! This book is a modern classic and makes me laugh each time I read it or watch the film. As well as having all the makings of a brilliant rom com, this book is also very real, which is often not the case in fictional love stories. It was one of the first books I read with a very real, imperfect female character and that was something I really appreciated.

  1. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

I mentioned this book in my January wrap up but it is the perfect addition to this list. Whilst the main plot of this novel is focused on attitudes to literature and stories, there are also a couple of very sweet love stories thrown in. If, like me, you are a fan of slow burning romances, you will love this book! My only criticism would be that although there is an LGBT couple, they do not get as much attention as the straight couples.

  1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This is one of my favourite YA books. This book is predominantly about Cath, aspiring writer who has just moved to college and is trying to navigate the world on her own for the first time, with a lovely romance that blooms along the way. It’s a story about family, friendship, growing up and fanfiction. If you enjoyed this book, I’d also recommend ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell, which is the full-length story of the fanfiction Cath writes which we get snippets of throughout Fangirl.

  1. Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

This book has been described as ‘a Muslim Bridget Jones’. Whilst I agree with that comparison I would even go as far to say I liked it better than Bridget Jones! Before this book, I had never come across a book that featured a Muslim woman as it’s protagonist. Whilst the story of this book is largely centred around dating and relationships, it is also a story about religion, friendship and balancing all of these things with a successful career.

 

My Favourite Books

It makes sense that my first post on this blog is a list of some of my favourite books. I read so much, it’s impossible to list all of my favourite books so here are five that I’ve read over the years. Some of these are childhood favourites, others are more recent discoveries. I should point out, Harry Potter is not included in this list, because it should go without saying, that is my favourite book series. I’ve included links to buy all of these books so be sure to have a look at the ones you don’t have!

  1. Matilda by Roald Dahl *

Like so many people, I loved Roald Dahl’s books as a child. The story that really stood out to me was Matilda. When I was younger, I was very quiet and constantly had my nose in a book, which wasn’t necessarily considered ‘cool’. When I first read Matilda, it was like I had finally met a friend who loved books and stories as much as I did. I wasn’t as good at Maths as Matilda was and I definitely didn’t have the power of telekinesis, but she made my younger self feel less weird and alone. Exactly as a good children’s book should. I’m so annoyed at my younger self for losing my copy of this book!

Favourite quote: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte *

This book is actually a rather recent discovery for me. It was part of my suggested reading list for my English Literature A-level and had been on my personal TBR for a long time. I have a bit of a love, hate relationship with the classics, but Jane Eyre very quickly became one of my favourite books. Jane is seen as very plain by the people around her and yet she behind that exterior she is strong and fierce. Of course, this book isn’t perfect, the treatment of Bertha Mason is troubling, and I do wish the ending had been different but Jane is a wonderful protagonist and the imagery in Bronte’s writing is beautiful.

Favourite quote: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

  1. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai *

I can remember watching the news in October 2012 and hearing that Malala Yousafzai had been shot for campaigning for girl’s education. In my very naïve and ignorant head, this was a shocking event that seemed to belong far better in a dystopian story. The reality is, thousands of women and girls around the world are banned from attending school and anyone who tries to speak out against this, is putting their life at risk. Malala’s book is about her childhood and life before the Taliban came to her home town. Her passion for her cause spills from every word. Her courage, determination and refusal to give in is remarkable. Reading this book was so inspiring and Malala’s story has stayed with me ever since.

Favourite quote: “If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?” 

  1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis *

This book was one of the first books I considered my favourite. I was six years old when I first read it and having recently reread it, I am still just as in love with the story now as I was back then. I’m just as attached to the physical book as I am the story inside. My friend bought me this beautiful anniversary addition for my sixth birthday, as you can see, it’s been well loved!

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Favourite quote: “Once a King and Queen in Narnia, always a King and Queen in Narnia”

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak *

The final book on my list is one that I stumbled across accidentally after browsing through a bookshop. I’d realised that I had fallen out of love with books and had found myself in the middle of a reading slump from which I seemed unable to escape. This book found me at exactly the right time. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, The Book Thief is set during the Second World War but is told from the perspective of a young girl living in Germany – a point of view we don’t get to see very often. This book reminded me of the power and importance books have. The film is just as beautiful, in fact, I think it’s one of the best book to film adaptations I’ve ever seen.

Favourite quote: “I am haunted by humans.”
Let me know what your favourite books are!