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!

 

Blood Sisters by Jane Corry | Review

*Trigger Warning: This book includes scenes of self-harm and rape.*

There is nothing more exciting to me than getting stuck into a mystery or a thriller. So, when I read the description of ‘Blood Sisters ‘ by Jane Corry about two sisters, fifteen years on from a horrific accident who are being watched and followed by somebody who is desperate for revenge, I HAD to read it.

The story is split between the perspectives of two sisters, Alison and Kitty. Even before knowing all the details of the accident, it is clear that both women have been deeply affected by it. Kitty suffered severe brain damage and is unable to walk and struggles to communicate as a result. Corry was very respectful in her depiction of Kitty and effectively portrayed the character’s frustration at being unable to communicate what she was thinking to those around her. Corry also did a brilliant job at portraying the way people with disabilities are treated so poorly by society. From relatively minor things such as using a patronising tone to bigger issues such as not trusting people with disabilities to care for children.

Unlike thrillers I have read in the past, ‘Blood Sister’s starts off slowly, very slowly. In fact, it wasn’t until I was over halfway through the book that I felt things were beginning to pick up. I know even thrillers can’t be fast paced all the time and, sometimes, a slower narrative is key to building tension, but in this case, the pacing of the story was unnecessarily slow at times.

To me, neither of the girls were very likeable. Alison in particular, I struggled to empathise with from the very beginning and couldn’t understand a lot of the decisions she made. Whilst I don’t know if this was Corry’s intention, it made certain revelations about Alison and her involvement in the story far less shocking for me personally. Having said that, one of my favourite things about the story was the ambiguity between which sister was ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I think my dislike for both girls really helped play into that.

Some details of the story felt a little inaccurate. Often when reading fiction, I’m able to suspend a certain amount of disbelief (it is made up, after all!) however, some of these things were founded in reality and were so integral to the plot that I found it difficult to overlook. For example, I didn’t understand why prisoners who were clearly very dangerous were being held in an open (and seemingly minimum security) prison. Granted, I’m no expert in the criminal system, so if I am being unfairly critical, please correct me!

It was completely by chance that I stumbled upon this book so I’d not heard of Jane Corry before. After doing a bit of research, I am curious to read her other book ‘My Husband’s Wife’ as I’ve heard brilliant things about it.

Have you read ‘Blood Sisters’? 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 End We Start From by Megan Hunter | Review

Dystopian fiction is a genre I’ve really been enjoying over the last couple of years, so when I read the blurb of ‘The End We Start From’ by Megan Hunter*, I was really excited to get my hands on it. The story follows a woman and her newborn baby, named Z, who are forced to flee London after the city is submerged in flood waters. Often dystopian novels are founded on the concept of a corrupt government so to read an apocalyptic style story focused on a natural disaster was a nice change.

The juxtaposition of a dystopian story being focused on a newborn was an interesting one. Birth and new life are usually used to represent hope and a fresh start and in this instance, we have the opposite effect. Throughout the novel, we see Z grow and develop despite London and the lives of all the characters slowly deteriorating. The woman (whose name is never mentioned) tracks her journey of new motherhood and highlights the worry that now her life has changed in such a drastic way, motherhood is all she has, “It is all I have”.

Each character is referred to by an initial rather than a name. It was unclear whether this was an element of their world or whether it was the narrator’s personal way of referring to everyone. As a technique, it was really effective in showing the anonymity and uniformity of each character in the story. Since fleeing their homes, all the characters have been stripped of their individuality. It was also reflective of the way we view and speak of people who are in similar situations in real life. When we see similar scenes on the TV, of people fleeing their homes due to war, or natural disaster, we reduce them to numbers and fail to see them as individual people. When the baby is born, there is a discussion about what they should be called, a few more traditional names are suggested before the characters settle on Z, as if they know the looming disaster will rob them of any personal identity they have.

What struck me the most about this novella was the paratactic writing style. At times it felt more like reading a poem than a piece of prose. There was very little detail about the characters and their lives before the disaster. However, this is not detrimental to the development of the story in any way apart from feeling a little detached from some of the characters. It allows the story to move along at a good pace without having to dwell on details, the story begins instantly rather than spending half the book on world building and character development.

 

Throughout the book, I kept thinking how interesting it would be to see the story adapted into a play so I was really excited to hear that Benedict Cumberbatch’s company are adapting it into a film!

Have you read The End We Start From? 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*

 

Not Working by Lisa Owens | Review

The description of ‘Not Working’ by Lisa Owens * appealed to me as it was about a Claire, who is newly and voluntarily unemployed. The novel follows Claire’s job hunt, the consistent rejections and all the stress that come along with that. As someone who has found myself unemployed for most of my gap year, I was excited to connect with her character and see if our experiences matched up. In the beginning, I felt a strong sense of empathy towards Claire, particularly the way she fixated on the small details in her life and often blew tiny problems way out of proportion.

I also really loved the format of the book. It was split into lots of very short ‘mini-chapters’ within each of the much longer chapters. This is a very different and a really interesting layout to any other book I’ve read before. It felt like we were looking at thirty-second snapshots of Claire’s life which allowed us to learn a lot about her life, relationships and current circumstances without taking up too much of the book.

Unfortunately, this is where my praise for this book ends. Nothing really happens, plotwise. At first, I thought all the little details we’d picked up along the way were building up to one huge plot twist, however, I’m currently 80% of the way through (seriously considering stopping there) and still, nothing has happened. Everything is just plodding along, day after day. Besides a couple of meetings with friends and a very brief spell of employment, nothing particularly exciting has happened. Of course, that is a very accurate representation of real life but, personally, I read books to escape the boredom of real life, not to be reminded of how ordinary my life is!

Only one plot point really springs to mind as bringing any sense of drama which is the so-called argument between her and her Mother. Even then, it was only treated as a secondary plot point rather than the main source of tension. It was also very frustrating reading about the way Claire’s mother dodged her calls and all attempts to make amends for what seemed like months. It seemed very immature.

If you’re looking for a relaxing, true to life story, I’d absolutely recommened this book. That’s just not what I look for when I’m reading, so, unfortunately, this isn’t the book for me.

Have you read ‘Not Working’? Let me know your thoughts 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*

‘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.