Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Oh. My. Where do I begin with this utterly original, completely heart-wrenching and beautiful story that kept me awake until the wee hours as I simply had to finish it? I have actually delayed writing a review because I am concerned I won’t do this magic novel justice. But I will try.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a debut novel by Gail Honeyman. It tells the tale of the socially inept, friendless, simple (as in uncomplicated) Eleanor, who’s worked at the same place for almost a decade, eaten the same things, drunk a couple of bottles of vodka every weekend, and followed, with minor aberrations, the same routine for years. This routine includes a weekly telephone call to her cruel institutionalised mother, who appears to have an unnatural and unhealthy hold over her daughter.

When one of Eleanor’s co-workers accompanies Eleanor down the street after work one day and they witness an accident, their subsequent kindness leads to some extraordinary and slow alterations in Eleanor’s life. Suddenly, Eleanor is forced to face the fact her life might be “fine” but is it complete? What she finds when the answers start to come is something unexpected, thrilling and totally frightening.

Beautifully written, sparse and yet, laden with meaning, it is both sweetness and light as well as darkness and horror all at once. Reading was akin to riding an emotional roller-coaster, but one I didn’t want to step from. Your heart aches for Eleanor and those who enter her sphere. As for the mystery that is her past, as it slowly unravels, you quake for Eleanor and what she must face.

This is about inner strength and the demons that try to weaken even the bravest of souls. It’s about friendship, and unexpected and simple acts of kindness and empathy, that come when you least expect it, but often most need them. It’s about fear of change, of the past, but also how both need to be embraced in order to alter the future.

Unsentimental, yet totally heart-warming, it is bitter-sweet as well. You yearn for Eleanor and for the light of hope that flickers through the pages never to be extinguished, though there are moments where it dims dangerously.

I am still thinking about this book days after reading it and cannot recommend it highly enough. A treasure of a story.

 

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Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is a booThe Ocean at the End of the Lanek like no other I have read in that it taps into something wonderful, dark and primal and managed to transport me back to both the magic and terror of childhood, a time of possibilities and when dreams and nightmares really did come true.

Finding himself back at his childhood home after attending a funeral, a middle-aged man (who is never named) recalls events that happened during his childhood – how the peace and joy of his life on the farmstead was shattered when a visitor to his house commits suicide in the family car. This act releases a darkness that threatens the young boy and his family, a darkness that his mother, father and sister seem unable or unwilling to see let alone confront. Only the bravery and chthonic magic of the girl down the road, the amazing Lettie Hempstock, who has a pond that is an ocean in her backyard and all sorts of other wondrous things, and her mother and grandmother understand and have the wherewithal to aid the boy in what becomes a life and death struggle to defeat the all-consuming and seductive powers of the darkness

Like the man remembering his childhood, the reader is transported back to ours. As the boy battles his own and some very real demons, so too we revisit and vanquish (if we’re lucky!) those that haunted our youth. What I loved about this book (and Gaiman’s work overall) is that nothing is cliched or expected. Furthermore, it’s what’s not described, but in the spaces between the words, the absences on the page and into which the reader’s imagination slips (or tumbles), that so much happens. Gaiman respects the power of our imaginations to take the story into places other writers would not dare. Thus, we fill in the gaps and the powerful but ofttimes partial descriptions with our own menacing ones. This makes the book at once eerie, wild and disturbing. Sometimes, the words and scenes howled through my mind, making we shiver and look over my shoulder. Other times, I felt warmed by its magical embrace and found great comfort – as if a warm blanket had been flung over my shoulders and a cup of something warm, sweet and strong had been placed in my hands.

There is something restorative and meaningful in peeling back the layers, in being reminded of the power of stories, of imagination, of being anchored once more to a time that while a part of us all, rarely gets dusted off and re-examined, though our childhood is what shapes us. We tend to relegate it to the attic of our minds. Stories like Gaiman’s reinstate childhood and the terrifying and wondrous interpretations children use to negotiate reality in all its great and scary glory.

Finishing the book is like awakening from a dream and I couldn’t help but grieve as I felt that the funeral the man was attending wasn’t only for a lost beloved, but a lost self. That we outgrow (or choose to ignore) the capacity to see and relate to the world through the eyes of our childhood selves is surely something that deserves mourning.

Astonishing modern fable that vividly recaptures the beauty and dread of dreams and childhood imaginings.

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Book Review: Shine Light, Marianne de Pierres

Shine Light, the final book in The Night Creatures trilogy, is an unforgettable conclusion to an original and thrilling series.

Shine Light (Night Creatures, #3)Now that Naif has learned the shocking reasons behind why young people are sent to the dark island of Ixion, she returns to expose the truth and try and liberate them from their oppressors. Her mission is urgent as the badges, which all folk are given upon entering Ixion and which control life or death, are failing. While Naif has had her badge rescinded, there’s her brother and others she cares for deeply who are at the whim of its force.

Urging all the different factions to unite and overthrow their enemy and embrace liberty, however, is no easy task. Sometimes, as Naif learns, the truth doesn’t set you free, it merely complicates everything. Nonetheless, loyal and gutsy, she determines to fight the Ripers, release those they’ve enslaved through drugs, hedonism and wanton selfishness, and shine light into the darkest recesses of Ixion and beyond.

At the heart of Naif’s deadly quest, is also a truth she must face: where does her loyalty really lie? With her fellow rebels and revellers or with the creature whom she loves so deeply, the enigmatic and sensual Lenoir?

Fast-paced and so beautifully and tautly written, this final instalment is a wild ride from start to finish. The elegance and economy of the prose means you’re plucked out of your own reality and deposited firmly in the middle of Ixion, among its toxic politics and unravelling social structures. Darkness becomes an even more powerful metaphor in this novel, representing as it does, not only ignorance and the abuse of power, but the evil that lurks about and within. Straying from the light is not only lethal in this book, it’s imbued with possibilities for deadly transformations and is offered as a temptation to which those who give up the battle succumb.

In many ways, the darkness and the Ripers signify a particular state of mind, whether drug-induced or not, and as such, function as representations of the blacker aspects of the soul, of young souls specifically. There’s a sense in which Ixion, and those who are brought there have, throughout the trilogy, been presented as being analogous to the angst-ridden teenage years: the desire to fit in, to be different and indifferent, to regard oneself as immortal. In this space, all the confused and driven psychology and emotional states of youth are realised, personified and become places and spaces as well – and it’s terrifying.

All the books have explored the various pressures of adolescence; how there are those who will stray from the “paths” – knowingly and unknowingly, willingly and unwillingly – and reap the consequences of their choices. But what the books also reveal is how those whom young people trust with their care can abuse that responsibility; exploit youthfulness for their own benefit and that realisation is the most disturbing of all – for everyone.

Through Naif, the young people of Ixion (and others) are given the opportunity to come into the light of their own power and choices and thus shine. But will they take it? Will Naif be able to resist Lenoir’s allure and the hold he has over her or will she succumb? Will Ixion surrender its terrible secret in time?

You’ll have to read this marvellous book to find out.

 

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