Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_eleanor_oiliphant_is_completely_fine.jpgWhat an absolute joy to read this was, definitely one I will keep, share with others, and put into book club.

Eleanor is almost thirty, she lives in Glasgow, she works for a graphics design company in what could loosely be termed admin, she has worked there for nearly ten years. She has no friends. Her work colleagues think she is odd, they know very little if anything about her and can’t really be bothered to find out more. Every Friday night she leaves work, goes to Tesco, buys two pizzas and two bottles of Vodka. She goes home, demolishes the lot over the weekend, then turns up at work, bang on time Monday morning for another week the same as the previous. She is completely fine. These are her good days.

To the reader, her loneliness is extreme, the walls she has built around herself painful to see. It is hard to fathom the depth of loneliness that people can feel in their lives, and if this is a voluntary state, an enforced state, or a combination of the two. Is there a mental illness of sorts going on here, does she have a personality disorder, has something happened to her to have her life turn out like this at not even thirty? Slowly, page by page, we learn about Eleanor and the carefully structured life and walls she has built around herself over the years. We learn that from about the age of eleven she was in foster care, that she had a boyfriend who was violent to her, that she has a very controlling mother in prison with whom she talks once a week.

Life takes a sudden turn when she bizarrely falls madly for a wannabe rock star, her perfect man. To attract said man’s attention she pays a visit to a beautician, buys some swanky new clothes. She also befriends a work colleague who is forced upon her as the repairer of her work computer. By chance they are out during their lunch hour and assist an elderly man who falls over in front of them. These minutely small human connections are the beginning of the budding and flowering of the wonderful Eleanor. There are some hiccups along the way, as she struggles with her reconnection with the world, letting people into her small tightly held bubble – there are bad days, until finally we reach better days. And of course, we find out all about Eleanor’s early life that put her into foster care at eleven and explains why she has become this strange, out of touch, and odd person.

Eleanor is a wonder to behold. Being so little involved in others’ lives, having no social network or friends, having no need to deal with people in her work, she has lost all the social filters that most of us develop over the years of interacting with others. Our socially conditioned and finely tuned antennae tell us when we say or do something out of kilter, not so Eleanor. Her conversational exchanges are hilarious and endearing, if they weren’t quite so sad; her observations of those around her and how they behave equally wicked and funny, although of course she does not see it like that!

The writing is wonderful, and being narrated in the first person the reader is right inside Eleanor’s head. We root for Eleanor all the way even when she is frustrating the whatever out of us, as do the people she meets in the course of this story. She may be tetchy, difficult to talk with, unpredictable, but all the characters love her, from her colleague Raymond, to the elderly man, to her hairdresser, to her boss – it is as if they can all see the potential in this young woman, but just don’t know how to tap into it. I want to read this book again, it is just great, and gives a tender and sensitive insight into the loneliness that many people must live in. Heart-warmingly wonderful.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780008172121

 

Book Review: A Talent For Murder, by Andrew Wilson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_talent_for_murder.jpgThe author has merged so well with Agatha Christie the novel reads as grippingly as any of her works. Meticulously researched, he adopts Ms Christie’s persona in this tale of her famed missing eleven days.

Anxiety and panic attacks fill Mrs Christie as she relates the events of what is readily plausible in that time and in her world of crime novels.

Wilson teases us with characters she meets; we want to keep reading to know them, to know more about them. We are in suspense as we read on and learn more. How each character involves with and revolves around each other, and the plot, is breath-holding – in the sense of building our feelings of foreboding, and character empathy.

This book was so well written I devoted two evenings to completing it. Christie, as character, reads people, actions and settings, and records them in such detail that it is easy to believe this story is truth. She shares her emotions – bereavement, stress, loss, anger, desperation – in reasoned detail. Her voice builds reader empathy

Wilson’s re-creation of Christie’s work is exceptional; and, what good news – he is working on the next Agatha Christie Adventure, A Different Kind of Evil.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

A Talent For Murder
by Andrew Wilson
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781471148224
eBook: 9781471148231

Book Reviews: Some Tests, by Wayne Macaulay

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cv_some_testsMost of us have been sent by the doctor for blood tests, and x-rays, or to specialists if we have been ill. After reading Some Tests, I will certainly be thinking differently with any referral I am given.

The main character Beth Own wakes one morning feeling unwell after being ‘a little off colour’ the day before, and taking to her bed after leaving early from work.

The visiting locum doctor explains to the intern ‘the patient presents as someone who is, medically speaking, in rude health. But at the same time she exhibits symptoms with no detectable pathology: slight headache, dizziness, a heaviness in the limbs, an overall sense of what we might call unrightness’. ‘All right, he said, now we need to send you off for some tests’.

Beth’s riveting journey takes the reader to a series of consultations with a variety of doctors around Melbourne in quick succession, and left me feeling quite exhausted.
Although very unreal, as we all know the modern health system is a waiting game, the book was a fast paced read which I found difficult to put down.

The author Wayne Macaulay’s style of writing used short sentences, frequent paragraphs and line breaks within the short chapters, to create an unsettling feeling of impending doom.

But what is wrong with the 37-year-old wife and mother of two?

In her words she explains, ‘I seem to have developed a special relationship with the moon that somehow relates to my dead mother. I also seem to be seeing more spectacular sunsets than usual, too. But on the other hand in a medical sense, I still don’t know what’s wrong.’

Australian author Wayne Macaulay has written a number of books and Some Tests will appeal to anyone who enjoys a modern novel with some fantasy. Unlike many books about illness this is not heavy going and leaves the reader with many questions about the current state of western medicine, and I felt very sympathetic towards Beth’s husband David, bewildered at the sudden change in his family circumstances.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Some Tests
by Wayne McCauley
Published by Text
ISBN 9781925355932

Book review: The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_mothers_promise.jpgThe Mother’s Promise opens with Alice learning she has cancer. Like any mother, her first thought is for her child. Alice is too busy to have cancer, let alone surgery. Alice’s daughter Zoe suffers from social anxiety, and going to school is painful for her. They are a tight unit, with no suitable family or friends to support them. Alice finds the idea of a week in the hospital impossible. Kate, her pregnant cancer care nurse is worried about the lack of support and calls Sonja, a social worker who has some concerns about her own relationship.

Together, the women in this story are brought together by Alice’s treatment. As the story progresses the women become more and more involved until finally a previously unknown connection is revealed. It was clear from the very beginning that Alice and Zoe are a very tight unit who, while experiencing difficulties, feel like they are doing well by themselves. The forced and unwelcome involvement of Kate and Sonja leads to small opportunities to change their lives.

A Mother’s Promise is cleverly written. Different chapters take each woman’s voice and while the story opens with Alice, each of the women are dealing with their own issues. I enjoyed the depth of the characters and particularly enjoyed reading about Zoe and her experience of social anxiety. I liked the themes of belonging and creating your own family, and I really enjoyed the development of the characters. Zoe in particularly goes through a lot of changes – perhaps reflecting her young age and her potential for change. The adult characters are forced to reflect on their past decisions throughout the book, to ensue that Zoe is safe and happy.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the tight focus on the main characters and developing tension. Sally Hepworth writes with honesty and dark humour on topics that are serious. The topic of a mother and child facing a cancer diagnosis could be maudlin. But Sally Hepworth negotiates the story with sincerity and even joy. I look forward to reading her other books.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia
ISBN 9781925479959

Book Review: A Mighty Dawn, by Theodore Brun

cv_a_mighty_dawnAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Theodore Brun’s A Mighty Dawn is a story of violence and desire, set in early 8th century Scandinavia, a land of ash, snow, lakewater. Its protagonist, Hakan, is the “Chosen Son,” the son of Haldan, Lord of the Northern Jutes and the Vendlings of Vendlagard. One night, a vala (female seer and priestess) disrupts Hakan’s coming-of-age celebration with a haunting prophecy: ‘You will rise and fall again.’

The book is split into three parts, each section marking a stage in the character development of Hakan. After the girl he loves, Inga, commits suicide, Hakan learns from his father that Inga was also his sister. Embittered by his father’s dishonesty, Hakan leaves his home and family in Vendlagard. After he kills his rival, Konur, the son of Karsten, lord of the Middle Jute clans of the Karlung lands, Hakan fashions a new identity and accordingly renames himself, Erlan (‘Stranger’). With his horse, Idun, and his young companion, Kai, Erlan travels to King Sviggar to offer him his services. When King Sviggar’s daughter, Lilla, goes missing, Erlan sets forth again to find her, risking everything as he ventures into the uncertainties and terrors of a dark world and its creatures.

Theodore Brun’s writing flows smoothly, boasting rich descriptions and interior monologue. Coming from an academic background in archaeology, anthropology and history, it is evident that Brun has gone through a commendably great deal of research in order to interweave Scandinavian history and figures of Norse mythology such as Odin, Fenrir and the Norns. In his afterword, the author writes that the novel was influenced by stories like ‘Gylfaginning’, from the early thirteenth-century Prose Edda compiled by the Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson, as well as the poem ‘Völuspá’ from the Poetic Edda.

A Mighty Dawn is Brun’s debut novel, the first book of the promising Wanderer series. For the upcoming winter months, this novel would suit anyone with a penchant for historical fantasy and mythology. It would also make for an enjoyable and refreshing read for academics and students of history.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

A Mighty Dawn
by Theodore Brun
Published by Corvus
ISBN 978-1-7823999-5-7

Book Review: Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_earthly_remainsDonna Leon shows mastery in sewing together this delightful crime thriller Earthly Remains which is set under the vivid heat of the Venetian sun. With an engaging and charming narrative, the 26th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery will add intrigue to a sun-soaked holiday or transport you away on a lazy rainy day.

Following a foolhardy reaction in the interrogation of a slippery suspect, Commissario Brunetti finds himself on a prescribed hiatus from duty. Questioning his judgment and contemplating a change in lifestyle, Brunetti gladly banishes himself to the empty house of a distant relative in the Venetian laguna for some time out. The house, on the island of Saint Erasmo, is tended for by gentle caretaker Davide Casati, who Brunetti quickly befriends. Forged over ten days beneath the stifling sun, the two men form an easy friendship based on a shared passion for rowing and an unspoken mutual respect for one another. Casati appears a man of grace and radiates a strong sense of morality, yet Brunetti soon notices hints of a markedly different man lingering in Casati’s past. When Casati suddenly goes missing, Brunetti is compelled to unravel the loops and ties sullying his new friend’s disappearance.

Leon weaves Brunetti through the laguna with a beautifully economical narrative that lets the reader feel the oppressive swelter of summertime Venice and taste the richness of the Italian alfresco table whilst nimbly unravelling the truth behind Casati’s disappearance. On the small islands where ‘there are no secrets’ Brunetti must now follow his hunches to uncover the mysterious past of a man he barely knew. But the truth is not quite ready to give itself up.

Serving as my introduction to Donna Leon’s mystery series, I sincerely hope Commissario Guido Brunetti discovered reinforcement for the job he so loved over the course of Earthly Remains: I will be keeping an eye out for more in the series in airport bookstores as the perfect accompaniment to a holiday.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Earthly Remains
by Donna Leon
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9781785151378

Book Review: Hide and Seek, by M J Arlidge

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cv_hide_and_seek.jpgArlidge’s style has me determined to get my hands on each novel in the D. I. Helen Grace series of crime stories. His characters – both the police team members, and each title’s new cast members – are well and truly alive on the page – real, and human with their foibles and fancies.

In Hide And Seek, our favourite police officer-no-more is in her worst possible place: the world behind the bars of Holloway. Both the guards and the inmates (some of whom are there because of Helen) have already adjudged her as a rotten copper – before her trial – and as just another crim.

When the inmate of the cell beside Helen’s is found dead in her bed, left by her killer in a bizarre and ghastly state, it is Helen who has to remind the inmates that none of them are safe. Helen is driven to watch both guards and inmates alike in her effort to identify the killer.

She faces suspicion and hostility from both sides. The second and third kill creates a frenzy among the inmates. An understandable error of thinking delays her eventual discovery of the murderer, which she learns the hard way. Seriously, the hard way.
The unwarranted (as in, not official) actions of loyal D. C. Charlie Brookes are what decides the sequel*.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Hide and Seek
by M J Arlidge
Published 2016, by Michael Joseph, for
Penguin/Random House
Hardbound:  9780718183837
Paperback:  9781405925624

The Series:
Eeny Meeny
Pop Goes the Weasel
The Doll’s House
Liar Liar
Little Boy Blue
Hide And Seek
* Follow My Leader, later in 2017