Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while – or even if you’ve read one or two posts – will know that I love fantasy. The adventure, the different worlds, wonderful characters that have been imagined – but, above all, one of the main reasons I love fantasy is because I can read it so quickly. Not because the writing is easy to skim over or that i can rush through without needing to savour – the opposite, actually. Usually it’s the fantasy genre that has me hooked, has me reading late into the night, vowing to just read one more chapter, or even setting aside hours (or even a whole day) just so I can read it. The thrill, the excitement, the cliffhangers…those are things that I’ve usually only really felt with fantasy.

Then, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine came into my life.

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Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than fine?

There has been a lot of hype around this book, especially from some of my friendship circles. I had wanted to read this book last year, simply because it would have worked with my challenge to read a book that has a character with my name in it. Then, this book completely blew up, winning prizes and adoration from all over the world. I decided to pick it up when I was in a bookstore last month, and last weekend thought it would be a good time to start it.

Honestly? When I started reading it, I wasn’t so sure that I’d like it. I didn’t really like the main character, couldn’t see myself connecting with her, and read the first few chapters very slowly over the course of three days. Then, it hit me. One evening, I decided to read for a bit, only to find that I wanted to keep reading and reading and reading. Soon enough, I was staying up late to read it, and cleared my Sunday of all plans so I could read all day.

Eleanor Oliphant, the character, first comes across as a pretentious, snobby arse, one that no one would like. She’s treated poorly by the people around her, which is the only thing I originally sympathised with. Then, she started talking about her damaging relationship with her mother, snippets of her upbringing, and the negativity she faces from her appearance as she has visible scars. Ever so slowly, I began to sympathise more and more. Her life is regimented; wake up, go to work, eat a meal deal for lunch, wait for work to finish, go home, drink, then sleep and repeat. The loneliness that echoed between the pages was too loud to ignore, and the more you lose yourself in the world of Eleanor Oliphant, the more you feel that suffocating sadness that she seems to perceive as normal, that that was her lot in life.

Eleanor, and the other characters you (and her) are introduced to over the course of the novel begin to steal your heart. I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion, and felt completely swept up in this world. With a deep discussion on mental illness and the effects loneliness can have on a person, never before have I realised how important basic human interaction is. Sure, I have fantasies of reading all day and not leaving my bed, but if I had no one to talk to? That would be crippling in a way I can’t really imagine, something I’ve never before thought about having to go through.

This book is so important, if just to show you how even a little bit of kindness can go such a long way in making someone’s day so much better. I loved this book, and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone. Yes, it’s sad, but it also makes you feel so incredibly grateful – at least, that’s what it did for me. It made me grateful for the people in my life, the friends I see frequently, my flatmate, my family, even my dogs (although I’m always grateful when it comes to my dogs). It served as an important reminder about what truly matters in life, and all I want to do is return to the world of Eleanor Oliphant, if just for a few chapters to check in, and hope that she’s doing alright. I’d read a sequel in a heartbeat, so beautifully crafted were Gail Honeyman’s characters, and so great my love for them all.

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Favourite Books of 2017

2017 was a brilliant year for me in reading terms, with only a few books that I didn’t give four or five stars. Still, there were a few that still shone out from the rest, so these are my Top 10 favourite books I read in 2017. First of all though, honourable mentions go to The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas, and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All three fantasy books were definitely some of my favourites read this year, two of which were final instalments of trilogies I adored.

Moving on to the top 10, this ordering of the list is subject to change many times due to my inability to be decisive when it comes to things I love and choosing between them, as really there’s no comparing a few of them. Can anyone truly say that their adoration of an epic fantasy book is in any way comparable to a piece of emotive literary fiction that had their heart clenched within its grip from start to finish? I get very different versions of enjoyment and entertainment from different genres, so as much as I want to list my top three fantasy, top three fiction, top three non-fiction and so on, I’m just going to stick them in an order that works for me at this moment in time.

Who knew a top 10 needed such a preamble. ONTO THE LIST.

10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved reading this book, but I’ve grown to love it even more since finishing it and discussing it with others. There was a lot of ‘hype’ and anticipation going into it, which is probably why I was so conflicted about my feelings of it, as although I thought it a brilliant piece of fiction it didn’t change my whole world. Yet, I admit, since discussing its nuances and clever points with friends, I can say that it deserves all of the praise it receives.

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9. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Perhaps one of my favourite fantasy authors, the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy was the first book of Schwab’s that I picked up. I finished the first two in as many days, and before the third was released I read several of her other books and equally adored them, so to finish the trilogy that started my love for this author was bittersweet. I’m so happy with how it ended, and can’t wait for what this author will bring in 2018.

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8. The Northern Lights series by Philip Pullman

Maybe cheating a little, but I’m listing the whole Northern Lights series as my number 8 for 2017. I read the whole series last year, a feat I’m rather proud of, and plan to read The Book of Dust sometime this year. The first instalment was my first read of 2017, and definitely set the standard for the books that I read afterwards. A brilliant series, one that took me by complete surprise, and I’m so grateful that I finally got a chance to read it for myself.

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7. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry since finishing university, and after a friend highly recommended Kate Tempest I was so glad that a) my friend has good taste and b) Kate Tempest exists. A beautiful collection, one that is inspiring me to read more and more poetry (recommendations are more than welcome please and thank you).

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6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Damn, it’s hard to pick between your favourite reads – as if they’re all children who have fulfilled your every wish. The Secret History is a book that everyone and their mothers have been badgering at me to read and, finally, I can say that I fully understand why. Prose so eloquent and rich that I felt like I had to reread sentences, because I was pretty certain that just reading  them once wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the complexity of graceful talent that exists within every one.

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5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Ah, Pachinko, you still make my heart ache. Whilst it wasn’t as gutting and soul-destroying as A Little Life (in a good way), it was still emotive enough to have me texting friends at all hours with updates of where I was for emotional support. A beautiful piece of fiction, and a family-saga the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed more.

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4. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to read in 2017, and I hope that it’s one that everyone does read. Charming, hilarious, and moving, this has you crying from laughter one moment and just all out crying from despair the next. Brilliantly told, and its message is unmistakable; we need to help our NHS, and we need to do it now.

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3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ah, the top three. What a wonderful place to be – and in third Laini Taylor has more than earned her spot, her Strange the Dreamer winning my heart within mere pages. It was fantasy the likes of which I can’t ever remember reading before, the type that would make your heart feel full and send your spirit soaring. Strange the Dreamer felt like it was written just for me, for all those dreamers and book-lovers in the world who find solace within the written word and see stories and adventures where other people would see lines on pages. After reading this book, I bought the whole of her previously written trilogy without even reading the blurb of it, knowing that this author would not fail me – and having just finished the second in the series this afternoon, I’m pleased to say that this statement holds true.

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2. Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about this book since I finished it. I also have continued to recycle the same sentences when trying to describe it, telling everyone that it is a love letter to New York and captures Hayes’ life with partner Oliver Sacks. It’s filled with stories of his work as a photographer and the people he meets, and the love story between him and Sacks pretty much had me in a constant state of vulnerability and warring emotions as I tried not to descend into sobs. Truly beautiful, and it’s a book that has sparked a need inside me to read more and more non-fiction – I honestly feel like I owe so much to this one book. An incredible writer without doubt, and there is no reason that I could think of as to why someone wouldn’t like this book.

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And, finally, my number one.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book hasn’t even been published yet, but it still remains as my favourite read of 2017. The Song of Achilles holds its spot at the top of my all-time favourite reads, and Circe joins it in the ranks. It’s everything I want from a book, with classical inspiration, beautiful prose, and characters that make me want to fling myself into the narrative just so I can spend some time in their company. Miller’s use of language is skilled and seemingly effortless, and the Classicist within me is so grateful and overjoyed to have her writing such excellent fiction based off of myths. She manages to rewrite them in ways that make them seem fresh and new, without changing anything fixed – she merely adds elements that, if you didn’t know any better, Homer must have just left out. She brings new life to these old characters, and even though you know how their stories end she still manages to keep you hooked, and also cruelly gives you a glimmer of hope that tragedy will not come their way. Just superb.

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And that, reader, is my list of my top 10 reads of 2017. Let me know your favourites and what you’ve read, or if you agree with any of my favourites. Go forth, read widely and diversely, and report back. I personally hope to gain even more from what I read in 2018, from reading more non-fiction to reading more from POC authors. It’s very apparent that I have hardly any POC authors near the top of my list, which definitely means that I’m not reading enough by them. If anything, reading opens up the world in a way that nothing else can, and it’s very clear that if I only read white authors, that’s the only view from which I’ll be able to understand the world around me – and I’m a girl who likes her varied vantage points.

So, once again, let’s smash 2018.

 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It really goes to show that sometimes when your friends recommend you something, it ends up being one of the best things you’ve read in a long while – and also helps to increase your trust in your friends’ tastes. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books for me, as almost everyone at work – and a few outside of work – have told me for ages that I would adore it. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t read it, I would receive a gasp from my audience which would be immediately followed by something along the lines of ‘But you have to read it, you’re going to love it’. They were right.

*This is a spoiler free review*

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

This book is narrated by Richard, a young man from California who moves to a university/college to study Classics (and this is where I do a mini dance for the glory of study Classics, but a word of warning: if you study Classics you will not do what these students do. Or at least I bloody well hope not). On arrival at his new college, he discovers that there is an elite group of students who study with one particular teacher, who is known for refusing to take on anyone else. When Richard manages to be accepted into the fold, he discovers that there are many secrets within this group, ones that he is desperate to discover.

What is immediately enticing about this book is that it does not start with Richard moving to this new school. No, instead this book starts with the murder of one of these students, a young man nicknamed Bunny, at the hands of his classmates. Now before you start declaring me as your spoiler enemy, relax – this is said on the blurb and on the opening page. You go into this book knowing that somehow, and for some reason, Richard and these other elite students decide to murder Bunny. You only get a few pages in this opening before it jumps back to when Richard joins the college, and he narrates from some distant time that you’re not exactly aware of. I worried that I would grow bored of a book knowing this climax, but I was entirely wrong. There are so many other events that take place, and experiencing a book knowing that one of the main characters will be murdered is unlike any other. You’re constantly trying to connect the dots to various secrets and see how they all add up, and you’re questioning every tiny detail. I was desperate to keep reading only so I could find out what was going on, and once you know the secrets it feels like you as a reader are included in this elitist group.

I enjoyed the Classics references for obvious reasons, and all I can say is that after reading several books recently that made me feel slightly stupid for not getting the references (looking at you Chris Kraus), I was overjoyed to understand the finer details of this book. You grow to love these strange characters, and equally fall out of love with them. Tartt’s writing is beautiful and elegant, her sentences almost like poetry at times with the lyrical, whimsical nature. Storytelling at its finest, and it has to be when you know about Bunny’s murder from the get-go.

Overall, this book was an easy five stars for me. I’d recommend it to everyone, especially classics lovers, as it blends literary fiction with murder mystery with thriller. Just brilliant.