Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine tells the story of 30 year old Eleanor who goes to work Monday to Friday where she does everything by the book, doesn’t socialise, doesn’t have any hobbies, eats the same lunch and dinner every day, goes home on Friday night with a bottle or two of vodka, and blacks-out til Monday when she can control her life again.

We know Eleanor experienced a childhood tragedy, but the true extent of how it has impacted her isn’t revealed until nearly the end of the book. She stoically gets on with it without realising she hasn’t dealt with any of it, until her life unravels.

This is a great book of friendship, feelings, and how much impact your childhood has, whether you realise it or not. And also how much your work family can – and should – be there for you – we spend more time with our colleagues than our real family; my favourite jobs have been when I’ve made the best friends at work.

The writing is witty and kept me engaged. I also enjoyed reading this book with my very English friend’s voice as Eleanor – I had to send her this passage:

“Sport is a mystery to me. In primary school, sports day was the one day of the year when the less academically gifted students could triumph, winning prizes for jumping faster in a sack, or running from point A to point B more quickly than their class mates. How they loved to wear those badges on their blazers the next day! As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe”

Thoroughly enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and wanted to start reading it again immediately to see if there were any hints of the tragedy earlier in the book.

Rating: 5 stars, according to my book review scale

Book Group book: March 2019

Book Review: The Museum of Modern Love

I do love a fictional tale set around factual events (hello Outlander series). The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose is the fictional account of what happened when an exhibition called The Artist is Present was developed and delivered by Marina Abramovic and shown at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

But would I love a tale set in MOMA? I visited there in 2009 and lasted 10 minutes. I walked up to the first floor to be greeted with an ‘exhibition’ called Junk Yard Sale – yes, literally a garage sale spread across the first level of one of the most famous museums in the world. There was no way my non-art brain was going to call that ‘art’ and I high-tailed it out of there (and I’m sure missed seeing so many worthy pieces, I just might have to visit New York City again ūüėČ #anyexcuse)

For 75 days, Marina Abromovic sat silently in the atrium of MOMA, as the general public waited, one-by-one to sit opposite her. They stare into her eyes and it opens their soul. Some last 10 minutes, others hours. Is this art? Is it performing art? What is performing art doing in a museum? All these questions swirl around as I’m reading.

And as I’m reading, I’m drawn into every character. The main half dozen whose stories we follow are mostly artists in their own fields – some sit with Marina several times, one only once after practicing with ‘pillow Marina’ for weeks prior. The world we see as they prepare to sit with Marina – and the glimpse we get of their soul when they do – is fabulous.

I made sure I didn’t start any research into the performance while I was reading the book. I’m sure the author researched it well – the book was dedicated to Marina Abramovic for giving permission for this creative license. The summary pages told that 1500-odd people sat with Marina, and a further 850,000 passed the performance over the 75 days. I can imagine those people watching asking the exact questions posed in the book. “How does she just sit there?”, “Does she pee?”, “What’s sitting for 8 hours a day, 75 days straight doing to her posture?”, “Why do artists put themselves through this and then call it art?”.

There is one character who speaks in the first person throughout the book. Is this the ghost? Is it the unconscious mind, pushing the artist within? This wasn’t answered on my first read and I immediately wanted to start reading it again – which according to my book review scale is 5 STARS!!!!!

I’m still not sure what is art. I do know I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which was it’s own little masterpiece.

Book group book: February 2019

Book Review: Weekend in Paris

I was after a light read to start off the year and Weekend in Paris in my ‘to-read’ box seemed to fit the bill.

The main character, Molly, is an extremely naive English women who resigns from her job and heads to Paris for the weekend. She’s 21 years old, although I have teenage relatives who are more mature than her. Secondary characters weren’t much more appealing: Alicia – the travelling Australian with the ocker accent (*cringe*), Fabrice – the brooding French artist (so cliche), and overbearing ‘old’ parents at the ripe age of early 40s (yikes).

The French language described in brackets as Molly attempted to blend with the locals was stilted and annoying (ennuyeux) – someone clearly had Google translate bookmarked. The dialogue was unnatural and the ‘cliffhanger’ predictable.

Saving grace was it was set in Paris, and the descriptions of landmarks were nice reminders of my short few days I spent there far too many years ago.

It’s also started me reading again, which is a definite plus.

Rating: 1.5 stars on my book review scale

Review: The Natural Way of Things

I’m really not sure how to review this one. Around 300 pages long, the first 200 pages took me five weeks to slog through. The last 100 pages, two nights.

Eight(ish) women were abducted (no one really knows why), drugged and wake up on a rural desert property with three jailers: two men and a woman. A couple of months into their confinement, everyone realises – including the jailers – that no one is coming to rescue them. Food starts to run out, and the two main characters begin to take back control.

None of the characters were particularly likeable, and I say eight(ish) as the story focused on two of the imprisoned women, then there were one or two secondary and the others all in the background. I’m sure their names were mentioned but it wouldn’t have really mattered if they weren’t there. The jailers were intentionally horrible, so we were never going to like them. The author attempted for some sympathy for them by the end – they were also jailed – but I didn’t really care for that.

The Natural Way of Things won lots of awards and there was a lot commentary about the treatment of women: about what they (we) need to do to survive (in the book and more generally in life). In this book, most of the characters went insane, to varying degrees – how does that reflect real life, and what women go through everyday?

On my book review scale, I didn’t particularly enjoy the tale (not sure anyone could really enjoy it) so it’s not three stars. Two stars….? The writer’s craft was beautiful in some places, but no beginning to the story, just a bunch of women dropped into the middle of nowhere, with an ending that wasn’t really an end… But I had to keep reading. And I’m glad I pushed past the 200 page point when stuff started happening.

So many opportunities for prequels, sequels and spin-offs to actually explore each of the characters’ stories.

Rating: 1.5 stars – can safely say dystopian novels aren’t my thing.

Book Group book: mid-2018 (I’m woefully behind)

 

Review: Atlantic Shift

[Minor spoilers ahead]

I finished Atlantic Black by AS Patric a week or so ago, and I should have written the review then, and here’s why….

I can’t remember the main character’s name… which is quite telling.

She was a 17yo Russian (I think) ambassador’s daughter so let’s call her Katerina. The book is set over 24 hours (New Year’s Eve) on a cruise ship from Mexico to somewhere in Europe (France?). Katerina boards with her mother, who shortly after has a psychotic episode. This allows Katerina to roam the boat for 24 hours unsupervised. She gets up to all sorts of things I guess ambassador’s daughters did in the 1930s, which makes me glad I don’t have a daughter.

The writing was very engaging, it just didn’t go anywhere. I think that’s why I kept reading, expecting *something* to happen. Her mother made a miraculous recovery towards the end of the book (Was she really ill? Did she actually die?) and it barely rated a blip in Katerina’s self-absorption.

There were a lot of secondary characters, passengers and crew. They come in and out of the story – ships passing in the night (see what I did there) – reappearing again and me needing to backtrack to work out who they were and how they connected. Her father and brother are characters by letters and neither of the reveals about them were particularly surprising. The twist at the end was more of ‘oh, is that it…’ and ‘who was that guy again’.

Rating: 2 stars (check my book review scale) ‚Äď November 2018 Book Group book

Update: Tis in fact called Atlantic Black… Very memorable [sarcastic font]

Review: My Brilliant Career

I’ve wanted to read My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin for ages and see what it was all about. I knew nothing about it (I bypassed the introduction by Jennifer Byrne and Henry Lawson in my edition, coz #spoilers) other than it was written by a young girl using a man’s name who went on to have one of Australia’s most prestigous literary awards named after her, and that it was an ‘Australian classic’ (whatever that means).

The story is narrated by Sybylla, a young girl living in rural Australia (I’ve lived here my whole life and think it was around SW NSW, but didn’t recognise many places). Many times I thought the book was an autobiography; without nothing much about the history of the book or author, within the first couple of chapters you knew it was written by a young girl. The writing was excellent and there were some lovely flowing passsages.

Did I ‘enjoy’ the book? As a city gal of the late 20th century: No not really. The young woman at the centre of the story wants more out of life than marriage and to toil the farm, such was life in Australia in the late 19th century. Without this background, it’s a bit of a whingey teenager story.

It is VERY Australian. The dust seems to settle in the back of your throat; it is in everything.

Another instance to be thankful to be a women in the 21st century, where our options are so much more than what our fathers or husbands decided for us.

Rating: 3 stars (check my book review scale) ‚Äď November 2017 Book Group book

 

Review: The Good People

I normally enjoy historical fiction: knowing what’s going to happen and wondering how the author will take you there. This one was a little different: it was predictable, and¬†it moved slowly to the expected destination.¬†The Good People, written by Hannah Kent, was very well¬†written, which to begin with helped the slow moving tale. But it didn’t keep my attention – while I finished the book, it was tough going.

Set in the 1820s, the story commences with bad luck hitting a small Irish village: hens not laying, cows not milking, men dropping dead in the field, and women unable to have children. The main character is Nora Leahy, the Widow Leahy after her husband Martin is the one to drop dead. Martin was able to handle their grandson, Micheal, who is brought to them by his father after his mother is ‘swept’ – taken by fairies (The Good People). Nora hires a maid (Mary) for help with her grandson who she describes as ‘delicate’. Micheal is suffering from some ailment/illness which has rendered him a cripple and speechless – a “cretin”. ¬†After seeking assistance from the doctor as well as the priest to fix Micheal, who both say nothing can be done for him, Nora feels she has no other option but to ask the old woman, Nance, for help. Nance has the knowledge of the good people, knowing in the old ways, and says she can help cure Micheal and banish the ‘faery’ that has turned Nora’s grandson into a changeling.

I felt sorry for Mary, a child herself, who had stood in the marketplace to trade the only thing she could sell: herself. She cared for Micheal when his grieving grandmother, couldn’t overcome the burden of being a husbandless woman. Sleep deprived and at their wit’s end, the women sought help and were turned away by the men in their town.

Nance was a great character, and without any spoilers, you know women of that kind always find their own way.

This story reminded me of how grateful I am to be a woman of the late 20th/early 21st century. Being educated, being able to choose my own path, not being held to religion or superstition.

Rating: 2.5 stars (check my book review scale) – March 2017 Book Group book

Review: The Eye of the Sheep

I suggested this book¬†to my book group for¬†our annual selection and I’m so glad I did. It was the winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, granting a $60,000 prize which “shall be awarded for the Novel for the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases….”

The Eye of the Sheep¬†by Sofie Laguna is¬†just a delight. Yes, I was completely swayed by the cute doggie on the front cover who looks a lot like my Stella Bella. Yes, I wanted to read about Jimmy, the little boy who could only be handled and understood by¬†his mum – as a single mum, it sometimes feels like there’s no one else who understands¬†(even though I know I have a fabulous village supporting me raise my son).

The Eye of the Sheep is set in the mid-1980s in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. Altona to be precise; the dad in the story works at the refinery you can still see today when you cross the West Gate Bridge. The memories of the 80s and how they were presented definitely showed the Australian way of life.

Jimmy Flick is¬†child on the spectrum (not diagnosed nearly as often back then: kids were just “special” or “a bit of a handful”). The way he connects his¬†world to the real world is wonderful: more precisely, the way the author writes and describes these connections is just breathtaking. ¬†His dad’s job at the refinery, describing how it’s his job to clean the rust blocking the pipes (literally) was carried through to his mum’s asthma of dust blocking her pipes (lungs). The way the author describes¬†how Jimmy HAS¬†to run leaves you feeling just as breathless as him.

The story touches on so many topics that faced suburban Australian, then and now: the working class, alcoholism, redundancy, domestic violence, single parenting, family. Every character is flawed, but you love them all anyway.

The language and the way the story is told is amazing.  There is light and dark, ups and downs, happy and sad. I thought the tragedy described in the blurb would have happened earlier in the book, and it made the second half seem much shorter than the first, but the writing and character development easily carried this.

This was one of those books that I had six¬†pages to go when I reached my train stop. I was one of ‘those people’ walking down the street with my head in a REAL BOOK because I HAD to finish it. And I would have happily started reading it again straight away, if not for work and the whole needing to earn a living malarky.

Rating: 5 stars (check my book review scale) Book Club book February 2017

Review: Mr Loverman

My first thought when I finished this book was ‘good things happen to not so good people’.  

Spoilers ahead

A story about an elderly Caribbean gay man – Mr Barrington Jedidiah Walker Esq (I have no idea what the esq was about since he was a retired machinist or similar, not a lawyer) – who had been married to Carmel since he was about 20, but secretly in love with Morris all that time.  He and Morris were decreet enough to keep their secret hidden from Carmel, but she was about the only one who didn’t know. Carmel (who late in the book we find out had an affair with a work colleague 10 years earlier) had to return home to attend to her father’s funeral and Barry barely surviving on his own, decided he was going to divorce her when she returned.  When he ‘came out’ to his grandson in a drunken haze, his second daughter (single, about to turn 40) embraced his lifestyle choice and took him out to gay bars. Carmel returned from Antigia a new women, had reunited with a high school flame and was going to return for good after she divorced Barry, which she started proceedings immediately.

Would Barry have actually left her if Carmel hadn’t left him? I doubt it. He was the centre of his own universe, he could come and go as he pleased. He had a maid wife to take care of the domestic things.  He built a property empire (I have no idea how) and lent property or money to those who needed it, particularly his second daughter who he raised and subsequently favoured, after Carmel suffered horrible PND.  He was frightened  about coming out and for good reason – he’d been on the receiving end of a beating or two over the years. But he also didn’t like change, still dressing as the gent on the front cover of the book, still loving Carmel’s cooking in the old way.

We found out a lot about Barry, as the narrator, and a fair bit about Carmel, who had her own chapters. These were written without punctuation, a free flowing of her thoughts, as it were. This style was very distracting – No wonder Barry was always running away from her. The other characters where underdeveloped. Morris was the love of his life for more than 60 years, but we didn’t really get any insights into why (other than being buff in his early 70s).  The daughters were only just beginning to be explored when the book finished: 300 pages, you can’t fit a lot of character development in.) The language in the book was as if an elderly West Indian man was speaking to you, which took a lot of getting used to. There were some references that I didn’t understand.

But everyone seemed to live happily ever after – I guess is never too late for happiness and to be your true self.

Rating: 3 stars (check my book review scale) Book Club book January 2017 (Not withstanding that every time I thought of the title, Shaggy’s Mr Boombastic ear-wormed its way in… “Mr Lover Lover” even if it was in reference to Shabba’s Mr Loverman)

Review – The Sibling Effect: What the bonds among brothers and sisters reveal about us

I’ve always been fascinated by birth order and how our siblings influence us. I was drawn to this book not only from the perspective of my original family¬†(consisting of myself, one brother and one sister), but also¬†for my son who for all intents and purposes is an only child (he has¬†adult half-siblings).

The author is the second of four brothers, plus twin half-siblings (another brother and a sister) who we are introduced to late in the book (as they weren’t introduced to each other in real life until adulthood). He also had two step-sisters from his mother’s 15-month¬†long second marriage, who are not part of his life after the marriage ended. The sharing of his childhood experiences mixed with research on the topic of siblings was excellent. Breaking down the chapters of the book to different life stages allowed us to follow their development and interactions from childhood, teenage years, and adulthood.

For me, as the first-born, it’s nice to know I’m ‘normal’ and fit squarely into this role. My siblings – with my brother as the middle child and sister as the baby – also carry out their stereotypical roles very well!

The gender balance between different sibling interactions¬†is very interesting, particularly from the author’s upbringing with¬†all-male siblings. Some of the research about what happens in-utero to twins, as well as gay and lesbians, was new information to me and I found logical and well presented.

The chapter on singletons was obviously a focus for me. As my son is a day-care kid, as well as having frequent contact with his cousins, he hopefully will avoid some of the behavioural problems sometimes experienced by only children.

With the author not finding out until he was in his 20s that he has half-siblings was very interesting. He had an immediate bond with his half-siblings: one that wasn’t there with his step-sisters. The research suggests, on a biological level (most likely smell), we know who our blood relatives are. We humans are such interesting creatures!

Our longest-lasting relationships are with our siblings. They are with us from the start, they are part of our earliest memories, and will be with us longer than parents, spouses, and most friends. When I finished this book, I immediately wanted to talk to both my siblings and share all this new information about us. So to my two siblings, here’s to a great journey!

Rating: 4 stars  (check my book review scale)