Review, Uncategorized

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Rarely have I connected so quickly with or so desperately wanted happiness for someone as I did with Eleanor Oliphant. Despite her odd manner and the many funny (laugh out loud whilst reading on the bus funny) interactions she has with people around her, it was easy see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the debut novel of author Gail Honeyman and tells the story of a young woman who works in an office in Glasgow. Eleanor is set in her ways; she goes to work each day, gets the same meal deal for lunch, and buys a margherita pizza each Friday along with two bottles of vodka which she then drinks over the course of the weekend. Without really realising it, Eleanor is crying out for connection and friendship even though she thinks she is doing completely fine. Despite her strange manner and the funny and awkward interactions she has with the people around her, it  is easy from the very beginning see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who is a little lost and really just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.

Throughout the book an unusual upbringing is hinted at, suggesting that Eleanor’s childhood experiences have had a huge impact on the woman she is today and the difficulties she faces in social situations, but more than anything the book is a fantastic commentary on the devastating effects of loneliness and how it can affect anyone at any age. When we talk about loneliness the conversation tends to revolve around the elderly,  however it seems like there are more and more young people that are suffering from loneliness and crippling social anxiety, despite there being more channels of communication than we have ever had before. I suspect I am not the only person who felt some striking similarities with Eleanor’s situation in the opening pages, and the book perfectly demonstrates how small gestures and displays of kindness by others can make such a difference.

One of the things I love about this book is that it’s just about the genuine human connections and friendships Eleanor realises she has. It’s not about grand romances or drama or being special, it is just about Eleanor finding people who accept her in a normal, everyday world.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, I went into it with very little knowledge of the plot, and think I enjoyed it all the more for that. What I will say is that this is a truly heartwarming (and at times heartbreaking) read that will stay with you for a very long time and every person I have spoken to about it or recommended it to has said the exact same thing.

Speaking of loneliness, I thought I would share one of my favourite performances of Robin Williams, a clip I watch often when I’m feeling lonely and one that is more poignant than ever given what has now passed:

Favourite Quotes:

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 

“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”

“You can’t have too much dog in a book.” 

“You’ve made me shiny, Laura,” I said. I tried to stop it, but a little tear ran down the side of my nose. I wiped it away with the back of my hand before it could dampen the ends of my new hair. “Thank you for making me shiny.”   – This quote broke my heart a little bit.

“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.” 

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Ramblings, Review, Uncategorized

Attempting Austen

I first tried reading Pride and Prejudice as a thoroughly unromantic teen, it did not go well. As an avid reader of mysteries (I’ve been Agatha Christie’s biggest fan since age 12), I was much more drawn to darker stories and therefore decided that Jane Austen was definitely not for me. Oh how time changes you.

*There will be spoilers ahead and, although these books have been around for 200 years, it’s always polite to give warning.*

I read Emma last year (at the age of 25) having picked up a cheap copy in a bookshop and, much to my surprise, was greatly amused at how witty Austen’s writing and social commentary is. This was greatly aided by the fact that, in coming from a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, I was familiar with many of the characters – particularly Miss Bates who reminded me of a certain family friend. After more research (I tend to obsessively look at reviews of books I have just finished to compare experiences) I saw that many Austen fans had placed Emma pretty low down on the list of the best Jane Austen books, so made a conscious effort to read more of her work.

I read Pride and Prejudice just before Easter, and subsequently watched the mini-series and film over the Easter break. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the book. I already knew the storyline (I mean, Bridget Jones is just the modern version – right?), but more than anything just enjoyed the author’s voice and way in which she continually ridicules her protagonists.

Then, in earlier this month, I picked up Sense & Sensibility at my local library and, again, throughly enjoyed it (yes, I have now also seen the 1995 film starring Emma Thompson and the 2008 BBC miniseries). As a child I was always more sensible than my years and looking after my more tear-away friends, I connected with Elinor, and enjoyed reading about her family’s ups-and-downs. I also felt from the very start that Colonel Brandon was clearly the best option amongst all of the gentlemen introduced and felt like he and Elinor ought to have ran off together, but alas I will have to settle for Edward Ferrars.

I shall continue on my Austen journey and expect that Persuasion may be the next one I connect with most, given that I too am currently a 27 year old ‘spinster’. Good night.

Review, Uncategorized

The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak

Why haven’t I read this earlier?!! A question that I am sure many others have asked themselves before. I’ve had this on my bookshelf for a good five years and have been meaning to pick up, I’m so glad I finally did!  To be honest, I remember being in a airport in France around 7 years ago and accidentally overhearing a girl talking in a very spoil-ery way about this book, so my justification is that I wanted to forget the spoilers she mentioned before picking it up – I am so glad I did.

Books don’t often make me cry (I can probably count on one hand the ones that have) but I can say that I cried at the The Book Thief. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me despair for humanity in general.

Like most children in the UK I had a heavy dose of World War 2 knowledge dropped on me throughout my school career and have read many books and articles, seen many films and documentaries, and visited many museum and art exhibitions about that period, yet never fail be surprised to learn at yet another way humans managed to make each other suffer in those miserable years. On the other hand, it is always so heartening to learn about just how many good people tried to help each other, and the book wonderfully shed light on both aspects of wartime.

Whilst the book was perhaps initially aimed at a much younger demographic, I feel that there is much within the writing that you don’t appreciate unless you read (or reread) it as an adult, particularly Death’s rumination on humanity. An older perspective and deeper understanding on what happened and why things happened, adds greatly to the enjoyment of reading this beautiful book.

I loved Liesel, and Rudy, and Max, and Hans, and even Rosa. Rosa who’s forceful manner, again benefitting from having read from an adult’s perspective, you can immediately see comes from a place of love.

If you haven’t yet read this, I fully recommend doing so. The story of a young girl’s experiences through this terrible time, both positive and absolutely heart-breaking will stick with you. As will the wonderful people she meets, the caring foster family, brave young men, and adults who keep their gentleness hidden, you cannot fail to feel connected with every character in some way, and only hope that their kindness and heroism will somehow be rewarded in some sort of a happy ending, unfortunately like so many people during that time, this is not always the case.

Favourite quote: ‘A Last Note From Your Narrator: I am haunted by humans.’

Review

When She Woke

When-She-Woke_305

When She Woke –  Hillary Jordan

(published Oct 2011)

Ok, so this one is not so recent, but I read it last October and it’s one of those books that just sticks with you. The story, the ideas behind it, and the way it so scarily mirrors the possible near future left a profound mark and I find myself coming back to it.

Plot

When She Woke tells the story of a stigmatized woman struggling to navigate an America of a not-too-distant future, where the line between church and state has been eradicated and convicted felons are no longer imprisoned and rehabilitated but chromed—their skin colour is genetically altered to match the class of their crimes—and then released back into the population to survive as best they can. Hannah is a Red; her crime is murder – aborting her unborn child.

In seeking a path to safety in an alien and hostile world, Hannah unknowingly embarks on a path of self-discovery that forces her to question the values she once held true and the righteousness of a country that politicizes faith.

The Good

Red: The design team behind the hardback edition of this book deserve huge applause! Red, red cover, red pages, red is the immediate impression on the bookshelf, and could not be more perfect given the context of this book.

Political commentary: Reading it a time when abortion was a hot-button issue in US politics, When She Woke really brought home the possibilities of a future should pro-life extremists succeed in banning abortion. The overwhelming sense and despair and injustice you feel for Hannah and her punishment, and the consequent humiliation she is subjected to over her decision should, one would think, cause anyone to rethink their position on the matter. The first half of the book, setting up this world where those who have committed crimes are highlighted for everyone to see, and how women who have undergone (illegal) abortions are treated makes for addictive reading. For anyone following the debates on women’s rights, treatment of criminals, and religious extremism from all sides, it is difficult not to be terrified by how closely Jordan’s future is to becoming a very possible reality. This idea of ‘melanchroming’ people for the duration of their sentences is an imaginative process, and for me, demonstrated the idea of how some people cannot look past someone’s crimes and focus on rehabilitation.

Bigger picture: So often in these dystopian novels do we focus on just one country, or one small community, that it’s difficult to imagine how these societies function in relation to the rest of the world. When She Woke puts forward the idea that these changes are unique to the US, and the suggestion that Chromes are seeking to escape to countries like Canada where these laws aren’t enforced, widens the world within the book.

Hannah’s story: As I previously mentioned, you truly feel for Hannah and what she’s been through, and cannot help but to feel the injustice of it all. Witnessing how people react to her, how she has to forge a new life in such a hostile world, and how her own views begin to transform.

The Not So Good

Second half: The narrative slows down a lot in the second half of the book. After the set-up of  this new future, we really delve into the narrative of Hannah’s journey. Although it is interesting to see how she deals with what happens to her, and the new people she encounters as a result of her circumstances, it doesn’t make for the same addictive reading as the first part of the book. At some points, it feels as though too many negative things are being thrown at our main character where the story takes on a kind of soap opera feel, however, Jordan’s writing  manages to remain sharp and keeps you interested enough in the character to overlook these elements.

Overall view

A great book which gets you thinking about current issues being debated in the US (and to some extent, globally). The creativity behind the set-up of this dystopian future is what works best for this book, and is more than motivation to read it.

You’ll like it if you liked: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)