Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Hold Back the Stars follows Carys and Max as they float in space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left in their tanks, nothing left to hold onto but each other, and no hope of being rescued. With earth far below them, they think back over their relationship, and the love which led them to challenge the rules of their society, and eventually to the hopeless situation they find themselves in now.

The story is set in Europia, a society in the future where countries that survived nuclear war have pulled together to create a world of unity, no borders, and no cultural barriers. In order to achieve this, individuals are ‘rotated’ at regular intervals, shuttled all over the world so that they no longer ‘belong’ to any one country, and instead build relationships everywhere they go in the world. ‘Individualism’ is a central value, with individuals acting only in their own name, and not for or on behalf of their country or government, and the most important aspect of this value for Carys and Max is the Couples Rule. This requires that individuals stay single until their late thirties at the earliest before they settle down and start a family. However, when they fall in love, Carys and Max begin to challenge this rule, a decision which sets a chain of events that ends with them floating in outer space, waiting to die.

This is a simple story of boy meets girl, set in a futuristic world of space travel and utopian ideals of diversity, unity, and individualism – all great virtues, although they have backfired to prevent true freedom. I really enjoyed discovering the different aspects of Europia, especially because Khan didn’t bury the story under heavy or unnecessary details, and only gave us that which was necessary to understand the story so that it didn’t become buried under information. I found the world to be a realistic idea, and the details which Khan did give us made it seem like a genuine possibility for a future society. I also liked that Europia was not revealed to be an evil society but was a genuine attempt at a utopia that the characters all believed it to be. It made the world that Katie Khan created feel subtle and nuanced, letting the romance take centre stage.

The novel is split into two time frames. One story shows Carys and Max’s relationship evolving on earth, and the other shows them struggling in outer space as they try to figure out whether they can find a way to save each other. I liked that both stories were equally gripping but in different ways. The romance was more human, showing the highs and lows of the pair’s relationship. In space, each chapter is led with how many minutes the pair have remaining to live, adding an aspect of suspense, and we are gripped by the ways that Carys and Max try to find a way to survive. I was impressed that Katie Khan managed to make these two stories work so well together, because I expected one of the two to fall flat.

The only point at which this novel felt less than brilliant was the ending, which confused me as it completely stepped away from the structure that the rest of the novel had followed. To summarise, Katie Khan gives us three alternate endings to the lack of oxygen dilemma, each showing us different aspects to the world and characters. My issue was that this just didn’t fit with the book overall, and felt out of place. To make things even more confusing, the three endings weren’t clearly signposted as alternate endings, but rather I had to figure out what they were for myself, so when I began reading the second option, I was wondering whether or not my copy of the book had printed the same chapter twice by accident.

Overall, Hold Back the Stars was an enjoyable read, with a well-developed world and interesting love story at its core, but the structure of the ending of the book made it difficult to enjoy completely for me. Perhaps if the multiple endings had clear headings explaining what they were, I would have felt more comfortable, but as they were the reading experience felt confusing and muddled up.

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Book Reviews, Historical

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I’ve decided to write this review despite not being to actually put into words what I love this book. The only way I can summarise it is the Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is magical, and he has a wonderful way of layering a seemingly simple story with nuances and themes so that it doesn’t smack you in the face.

It is 1956, and Stevens, who has been a butler at Darlington Hall for years, has been given some time off by his new American boss, and has been offered one of his cars to use for a motoring holiday. Stevens decides he will travel the west country, and visit an old friend, Miss Kenton, who used to be a housekeeper at Darlington Hall, before leaving to marry. Over the course of his week-long holiday, he writes a diary and explores his life at Darlington, and particularly his time spent working under the old Lord Darlington, before the house was bought by the wealthy American he now works for.

One aspect to the novel is that of Stevens’s working life at Darlington Hall. This considers his career as a butler, and Stevens’s own sense of satisfaction and pride from his position, as well as his opinion of his employer Lord Darlington. I really liked the way that this encompassed a range of historical events, as Lord Darlington play a role in European politics of the 1930s. I also found Stevens’s exploration of the meaning and importance of his lifetime of service to be really interesting. It was moving to see him almost try to convince himself that his work was meaningful, struggle with whether his life had been well spent, and with how other people see his accomplishments, especially in a society that is leaving behind the aristocratic world that Stevens is used to.

The other side of the novel is that of Stevens’s personal life, which is closely interlinked to that of his working life, but looks at his relationships with his father and Miss Kenton, the housekeeper at Darlington, who left many years ago to get married, and who he is travelling to visit. Although they were closely wound up in Stevens’s working life, it was refreshing to see a slightly more human side to Stevens, who keeps a tight hold of his emotions. Again, I enjoyed reading how Stevens struggles to decide whether he has made the right decisions in his relationships, and decide how he feels about the people that have passed him by.

The best thing about this book is Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. My favourite book is Never Let Me Go by him, and I found that this had the same gentle style of writing that I loved about that book, which meant that I felt like the voice of the narrator was so realistic that I could believe they were a real person. It genuinely felt like Stevens was a real person, telling us a real story about his life, and as if there was no author being a middleman between him and me. It means that the characters all feel real, so the story feels real too, and it also meant that despite this book being laden with commentary on social class, historical events, and other themes, these issues are never being waved about in your face as if the author was trying especially hard to make the book complex, but rather, they feel natural.

Overall, I really loved this book and just like Never Let Me Go, I would probably consider it one of my favourite books.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Freshers – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Freshers is a YA contemporary novel that follows Phoebe and Luke in their first term at university. I absolutely loved this novel, because it not only showed the highs and lows of the ‘freshers’ experience, and the relationships that the pair create, but it did it so well that I laughed out loud and couldn’t put the book down.

Phoebe and Luke went to school together, but never spoke, however, that doesn’t mean that Phoebe hasn’t noticed him. She is hopelessly head over heels with him, and when the chaos of freshers brings them together, she can’t believe her luck. As if that wasn’t good enough, her new friends in halls could not be any better, and university is everything she could have asked for. On the other hand, Luke is struggling to adapt. He broke up with his girlfriend of three years on his first night, and without his friends and school football team, he can’t seem to figure out who he wants to be in this new world. He thinks he has struck gold when he lands a spot on the university football team, but it’s not the environment he’s used to, and if he can’t fit in with the lads in his team, will he ever find his place?

My favourite thing in this book was that I felt like it accurately represented the struggles of starting university, or beginning afresh in any situation. I loved how even though Phoebe was having a great time, at times she was hit with intense homesickness, and in Luke’s story, he was confused that the reality of university wasn’t as exciting and positive as he had been told it was. Even though they do all of the things they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at university, going out every night, getting drunk, at times they simply feel like they are going through the motions and not seeing the point. Even if you can’t relate to the specifics – for example, I didn’t drink at university, or go to ‘freshers’ nights, but I could relate to the fear of not being sure if you’re having as much fun as others around you, if you’re making enough friends, if you’re doing the right things, and I think most people could also relate to these fears.

There were so many fun characters to read in this novel, which made the story a much more interesting experience. I really enjoyed reading the scenes between Phoebe and her friends Liberty and Negin, and how they would come together in trying times, and their voices were so lifelike that I could almost hear them chattering next to me. I even liked the reference to people that they spotted around the campus but don’t know, which I found hilarious and so realistic – those miniature crushes that you develop on the attractive stranger that sits on the opposite side of the lecture hall and that you bond over with your friends. The only place where it fell flat was when these secondary characters became a part of the plot, because sometimes those characters weren’t well developed enough for me to recognise the significance of their role. For example, at one point, a character called Becky becomes a major part of the story, but I couldn’t actually remember who she was.

Also, although I liked how Phoebe and Lucy’s friends from before university made some small appearances, I would have really liked for their parents to make an appearance. We only saw a handful of text messages from Phoebe’s parents and nothing but a missed call from Luke’s. I realised after finishing the book that I didn’t know anything about either of their home lives or families and I think this could have been easily dealt with.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed Freshers and I think it is probably one of my favourite YA contemporary novels. I also really appreciated a novel that looks at the late teenage years and the university experience, as I feel like these years are often left out of fiction and forgotten. I enjoyed the different characters and relationships, but at times, it did feel like there were slightly too many and I couldn’t remember exactly who they were.

Book Reviews, Historical

See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt Review

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Rating:  ★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

As a huge fan of true crime, I have always been interested by the case of Lizzie Borden, accused of murdering her father and step-mother with an axe in 1892. Although she was acquitted at trial, Lizzie remains the main suspect in the murder, and I was really looking forward to reading See What I Have Done, which is a retelling of those events. The book benefits from the fact that the events of the book are so infamous, however, because the plot is so simple in that you know what happens, there needs to be more to make the book worthwhile. which in my opinion, See What I Have Done lacked.

In particular, as I said above, I was excited to see how Sara Schmidt presented Lizzie Borden herself, and the aspects of her character which led her to not only supposedly murder her parents, but to dominate her complicated relationship with her sister, and live the rest of her life in the very town where she allegedly committed the crime. Unfortunately, I think the book failed to make Lizzie interesting to me, and instead she was just annoying and simplistic. The Lizzie Borden in the novel is childlike in tone, throwing tantrums and manipulating those around her, but I felt like the dark side to her just wasn’t dark enough. It didn’t strike fear into me, and if the events of the story weren’t based on real life events, I don’t know that I would have suspected that she was even capable of the crime. Most of the characters had an issue along these lines for me. Apart from the set character that they were assigned in the story – Lizzie is childlike and scheming, Emma is the older sister who feels trapped by responsibility, the maid Bridget wants to go home to Ireland – there was nothing else to them. There were no grey areas or complexities, and I didn’t really care about any of them.

The second issue that I had with the book was the slow, lugging pace of the plot and the overuse of minor details. For example, I could barely tell whether the events of the book were simply focusing on the day of the murder, or the days leading up to it and after, because nothing really happened – apart from the murder itself, that is. It seemed like every single action by the characters was one of three options – eating pears, eating mutton, or struggling with food poisoning. I suppose that these details were meant to add to an atmosphere of claustrophobia in the house and increasing tension, like a ticking time bomb, but in reality it just felt repetitive and irrelevant after a time.

Regardless of the lack of action, the book could have been saved by more faceted character exploration, but as that was also lacking, I just felt like I was trudging through mud trying to finish this book. I think it could have been saved by some more character interactions, as they actually barely spoke to each other, but I suspect perhaps that Schmidt did not want to take any artistic liberties adding in events that are not historically proven.

I think Sarah Schmidt was perhaps trying to cast doubt on the belief that Lizzie committed the murders by including the chapters with her uncle and Benjamin, a man hired to teach Mr Borden a lesson. However, she didn’t really go through with it and kept with the story that Lizzie was guilty, which then just made me wonder what the point of these narrators were. I would have preferred for there to be a tighter focus on the Lizzie and her immediate family, or even just Lizzie and her sister Emma, exploring Emma’s suspicions, instead of having so many narrators. This would have made the book much more interesting that simply all of these characters eating mutton and pears.

Overall, I wish that I had loved this book, but it just failed to make me feel that tinge of terror and curiosity that I love getting from the Lizzie Borden case and other true crime stories. It was too weighted down with attempts to create an atmosphere, which simply fell flat for me and felt repetitive and boring.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Windhaven – George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle Review

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Rating: ★★

I’m a massive fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but like many others, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the next instalment for years and years. So, I decided to give George R.R. Martin’s other books a chance, and picked up Windhaven when I found it in a secondhand bookshop. I was really excited to see what else the mastermind behind Westeros had come up with, but Windhaven just fell flat to me.

Windhaven is set on a world made of various islands, and communication between these islands is effected via ‘flyers’, who fly on wings made of a special fabric. These flyers are selected from an elite group of families, who pass the wings onto their children. However, Maris of Amberley, a fisherman’s daughter who is adopted and raised by a flyer, is furious when her stepfather takes the winks from her and gives them instead to her younger stepbrother, his natural born son, despite her being the better flyer. She is so angry that she begins a revolution of sorts, sparking a series of events that changes the course of her life, to allow flying to be an option to everyone in Windhaven.

One of the things that I liked about Windhaven was the insight into various times in Maris’s life that we get. The first third of the book shows her as a young woman, when she protests against the elitism of flying and asks for access to wings to be based on merit rather than birth. In the second third, Maris is a teacher in one of the schools that she has helped to set up, teaching children born to non-flyer parents how to fly so that they may compete for wings. The third and final part is a now elderly Maris, injured so badly while flying that it marks the end of her lifelong dream. While I feel like it is done in a somewhat disjointed way, by the end of the novel I enjoyed seeing her growth and the bigger picture of her life.

However, there were issues that I had with this novel. As I said, I feel like the plot was quite disjointed, and this is made worse by the fact that the three parts of the novel don’t share a real uniting overarching plot. Rather, each one feels more like a standalone story.

Further I really didn’t understand the world and feel like the world-building was lacking. It was only by looking at the blurb of the book that I understood that Windhaven was another planet, that humans crashed their spaceship on, and that flyers’ wings are made from the materials of the spaceship, hence explaining why the wings are so rare and difficult to acquire. I think I might remember this vaguely being told at one point, but if it was told, it was told in such a boring way that I barely acknowledged it. This was an issue in much of the world-building – it was told via info-dumps, political-style speeches, or just otherwise in a way that was just distracting me from the plot, and desperate to find it again.

Overall, I really wish that I could say that this fulfilled my desire to find something to compete against Game of Thrones, but it didn’t feel at all like it George R.R. Martin was behind it at all. This book was frankly, boring, and although there were aspects that I liked to a degree, it wasn’t enough to salvage the slow, disjointed, and difficult to wade through plot.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

A Song For Issy Bradley – Carys Bray Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I’m currently on a mission to get through the books I have acquired over the years and have not yet read, and A Song For Issy Bradley has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I was not expecting much from it, not being a huge fan of contemporary fiction, but this book blew me away. I found it to be really moving, and couldn’t put it down.

Issy Bradley is the youngest daughter of Ian and Claire. The Bradley family also includes daughter Zipporah, or ‘Zippy’, and sons Alma and Jacob, and the family are devout Mormons. The book opens on Jacob’s birthday, and mother Claire is struggling to prepare for the birthday party she will throw for him as Ian is away on church business. She is so busy that she doesn’t have enough time to check on Issy, who has been feeling poorly, and by the time she does, she realises that Issy’s illness is far worse than the flu. Before she has time to process it, Issy is in intensive care with meningitis, and despite the family’s prayers, Issy passes away.

The rest of the book follows each member of the Bradley family as they grieve, or struggle to grieve, in their individual ways. Ian feels comforted by his faith, and his confidence that he will be reunited with his daughter in the afterlife helps him to continue with his normal life. Meanwhile, Claire cannot see a way to move on, and Zippy has to step into her mother’s shoes, cooking and cleaning while dealing with confusion over dating in a religious setting. Alma’s love of football is tainted by memories of playing with Issy, and Jacob is faithful that God will answer his prayers to bring Issy back. Each chapter follows a different family member in turn, and follows their individual storylines in conjunction with their grief for Issy.

I loved each character’s story, which I think is a rare feat in a multiple-POV narrative. I think this was assisted by the fact that each character had such a different tone. Jacob’s belief that he can resurrect Issy is a humorous break from Claire’s incredibly sorrowful chapters. Zippy and Alma are struggling with challenges outside of Issy’s death, but in fear of adding to their family’s problems, they try to deal with it themselves. Ian and Claire’s relationship is crumbling under the strain of the loss and the now evident differences in their faith. The novel is a really beautiful and moving look at how a family deals with loss, individually and as a family, coming together to put the pieces back together.

Carys Bray’s writing is simple but not basic, with the emotions that the characters feel being clear and moving. I think she was really good at giving each character a strong tone that stood out from the others. Alma is angry and resentful of the way his father’s religion has crushed his childhood dreams of being a footballer, Zippy is growing into a woman and Jacob is naive and sweet. This made it easy to deliver into the characters of the different narrators, their lives and their minds, and to really understand them.

I also found the insight into the Mormon faith and lifestyle fascinating, and the different perspectives, from those who were confident in their faith and found peace and comfort in the teachings, to those who struggled with it and those who altogether turned away from it. In my opinion, it was a delicate and subtle insight into religious life and the challenges that come with growing up and living in a religious community.

Overall, I really loved A Song for Issy Bradley and thought it was truly moving. Despite the heavy subject matter, it was not difficult to get through, and the different characters narrating the story did not confuse or distract from the story.

Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Ink – Alice Broadway Review

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Rating: ★★★

You’ve probably seen this book making waves online – why? Because of the cover. It’s gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence me in wanting to read this, because honestly, this is a book that I went into knowing very little about. All that I did know, was that Ink is set in a world where people’s lives are tattooed onto their skin. In this case, I feel like there isn’t really much more to know than this, because not much else actually happens – and that is my main issue with the book – there was not much there in terms of plot.

Leora Flint’s father recently died, and in accordance with the rules of their society, his skin, chronicling his life’s events, has been removed and made into a book. The pages of his life will be read by the government who will decide whether he is worthy of being remembered, or whether his book will be thrown into flames, to be forgotten forever. However, when his book is confiscated for further investigation, Leora has to deal with the fact that her father hid something from her, and that his skin is not telling the whole story.

I loved the premise of the world that Alice Broadway has created. I was really interested in the culture around the tattoos. For example, the year marks that show hold old a person it; the different tattoos that show crimes a person has committed; the family tree on everybody’s back. I loved seeing how people would come up with ways of marking important events in their life. I would have loved to have seen more detail in people’s tattoo choices, because it’s something that I find fascinating even in real life, for example, the way that Lorea’s mother’s tattoos are all floral, or how one of Lorea’s school friend’s has a previous boyfriend marked on her skin in a dominating position. I just found all of this fascinating, and the notion that you could ‘read’ who a person was and what they were like just by looking at.

On the other hand, this novel was just lacking plot in my opinion. It wasn’t necessarily boring – rather, I really quite enjoyed reading about Lorea learning about the art of tattooing, and dealing with her father’s death. However, I just didn’t get the point of the book in general because there was no clear overarching plot. The end of the novel develops so quickly that I feel like Ink as a novel would have been much better if the story had unravelled more gradually over the whole plot. Instead, for much of the book, it just felt like I was just reading Lorea’s daily life without it having any relevance. This book is an example of one of my pet peeves – it is a book that sets up a series of novels by simply setting the scene for better things to come, despite having tons of potential to be a brilliant standalone whilst also being the first part in a series.

Additionally, I think that because the plot was so weak, it made the characters very one-dimensional for most of the book. Leora makes no decisions for the majority of the book because nothing happens, and so we barely get to see her humanity, and the secondary characters were little more than plot devices. If the book had a stronger plot, all of the characters would have felt more real.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that this book was bad or even boring. I actually really enjoyed it, and I finished it in just over a day. However, just because it was easy to read it doesn’t mean that it was necessarily a fun or gripping read. I would have loved for the plot to have been stronger and interwoven throughout the novel better, but Alice Broadway’s world was interesting enough to make the book generally enjoyable.

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Book Reviews, Poetry

Depression & Other Magic Tricks – Sabrina Benaim Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You may have seen Sabrina Benaim’s spoken word performance of Explaining My Depression to My Mother which at the time of writing this review has 6.9 million views on youtube. Her collection of poetry further explores mental health, love, and family and is full of similarly sharp and passionate poems.

I really adore Sabrina Benaim’s voice. I like the way that she repeats phrases and words throughout her poems, and how this reflects the way that anxious thoughts can swim around in your head, brewing and evolving as you mull them over, so that one simple thought can become, over a few lines, a complex metaphor to explain her feelings. I liked how you can’t always tell if she’s talking to herself, or to someone else, and how striking her voice is, so that you can almost hear how she would read it out loud as you read it.

Of course, Explaining My Depression To My Mother is a fantastic poem, but there were others that really stood out to me as well. The line “my heart has developed a kind of amnesia, where it remembers everything but itself” in What I Told The Doctor is beautiful, and The Loneliest Sweet Potato is a beautiful exploration of feeling lonely even though you are not, to the naked eye, ‘alone’. I loved how the poems (i) and (ii) are blended together in the later poem Avowal so that I was flicking back and forth to see how the words are intertwined to give them a whole new meaning.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, but Sabrina Benaim’s collection blew me away. I loved the simplicity of her words, the intricacy of the imagery, the strength and passion of her voice. The poems had me blinking back tears, and then chuckling moments later. I also had the great luck to be able to see Sabrina Benaim perform during her UK tour, and it is another experience I could not recommend more. She is full of emotion, and captures your attention with ease.

i forgive myself even if i am the last person i want to forgive

whatever i have come from / wherever i am going

Book Reviews, Contemporary, Historical

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

Homegoing is a breathtaking look at the effects of slavery over centuries, spanning generations and continents. It is an epic family saga containing stories of love, trauma, loss, war, and friendship. it was a beautiful and moving read, and I was very impressed at how Yaa Gyasi covered so much in terms of scope, and yet managed to make each story feel personal.

The premise of this novel is that two half-sisters, unknown to each other and who live in different villages, in eighteenth-century Ghana are thrust into different lives by chance. Effia is married to an Englishman and lives her life in the Cape Coast Castle, ignoring the slaves that are being held beneath her, destined for another life. Esi however is captured and taken to America, where she lives the difficult life of a slave. Each chapter of the novel follows a different generation in the two strands of the family, focusing in on one individual, at a significant time in their life. Effia’s descendants experience warfare between tribes in Ghana, and the fight for freedom from British rule. Esi’s descendants are bought and sold as slaves, live through the Civil War, forced labour prisons, jazz and crime.

Homegoing is a look at the history of two nations through individuals’ lives, and this is what makes it so moving. It is easy to talk of the historical and social events covered in this novel from a detached perspective without truly understanding the human impact. The main thing that struck me while reading Homegoing was that it makes it clear, in a visceral and shocking way, through the memories of the characters, how recent the events that we consider ‘history’ actually are.

I really loved the format of this novel, with each chapter following a different person. We get a snapshot of life at a particular time, band I liked the experience of becoming invested in a character over the course of their chapter and to feel invested in their story, only to have them ripped away at the end. Each chapter felt like it ended too soon, but I didn’t resent it. Rather, it felt like this served a larger purpose of giving the stories and emotions inside of them more immediacy, and it gives the book constant momentum as you are always being thrust forward. It may take getting used to, but the chapters are each so brilliantly written that you won’t struggle to get into them. The writing is also so excellent, with fire and water imagery running through the novel, and I didn’t find it difficult to follow who was who, because usually the character is introduced, at least briefly, in the previous chapter.

Overall, I really loved reading Homegoing. I loved how Yaa Gyasi wrapped up the novel in a bittersweet bow at the end, neat and tidy, but not forced or difficult to believe. When I put it down, I was left wanting aching to return to the characters and learn more about them. It gives you a lot of food for thought, and indeed left me thinking about its contents for days afterward.

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman Review

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Rating: ★★★★

I’ve been seeing this book everywhere for months, and was so happy that I finally got around to reading it, and I can definitely see what all of the fuss was about. Eleanor Oliphant lives a strictly regimented, monotonous, but ‘fine’ life. She has never questioned her life that consists purely of going to work, and drinking at the weekends, with nobody to talk to apart from her mother who calls her once a week, and the social workers who visit every once in a while. However, when she meets Raymond, who work in IT, and they help save the life of a stranger in the street, she begins to question her life, how she got there, and what it will take for her to get better.

I absolutely loved Eleanor’s character. She was so complex and interesting, and although she clearly suffers a great deal with trauma, anxiety issues and a lack of social skills, her voice is so unique and at times downright hilarious that it was a pleasure to read the book, even when if she is spending entire pages explaining how boring and lonely her life is. This doesn’t mean that you don’t feel bad for Eleanor. Her life is the same everyday, and she has nobody to talk to, she doesn’t even think she needs anyone to talk to, but what I liked was that even at the start of Eleanor’s story, before she sets out on her journey of recovery and self-discovery, is that there is a quiet strength to her. She has lived through horror, and now she is living through loneliness, and she deals with it in the only way that she can, which is building an armour around her. Even if we don’t relate to her specific problems and experiences, I’m sure every reader can relate to the way that Eleanor deals with her problems and anxieties, by simply ignoring them and pretending that she doesn’t need whatever she is missing out on.

I loved reading her development through relationships with people around her. Raymond was a wonderful character to read, and I loved how we see Eleanor thinking of him as nothing but a lazy, wasteful and immature man, to thinking of him as a friend and genuinely valuing him. She takes this journey with many people in her life, such as the people in her work, and so the book is a beautiful and heartbreaking exploration of Eleanor’s loneliness and the way that society plays a role in further isolating those who struggle socially, but ends with hopefulness that Eleanor can recover with the help of those around her, and lead a fulfilling and fruitful life that makes her more than ‘just fine’.

The only issues that I had with this book lay with the storyline of Eleanor trying to piece together the traumas that she experienced as a child. Without spoiling this story, the main issue that I had with this was that it only really became a plot point towards the end of the novel. Although we know from early on that Eleanor has had horrible experiences, it just isn’t a concern of hers. This is understandable from the context of her character arc, but I would have liked for there to have been hints as to what the story was, and elements of foreboding rather than simply dumping the story on us out of the blue in the final chapters of the book. In a strange sense, I felt like the book could have been even more striking if it had lacked the dramatic ‘tragic backstory’ element, as I felt a little like Honeyman shifted the story away from a character-focused story to a story that relies on shocks and plot twists to keep you hooked. By the time I found out what had happened to Eleanor, I found that I didn’t really care that much, cause I was too interested in the rest of her character.

This book made me laugh, cry, and stayed with me for long after I finished it. I found it easy to read and loved the strong voice of the main character Eleanor, and how it drove the story forward and kept me hooked.