This year I decided that I wanted to make more use of the library as a way to get back into reading and have more fun for free. So, ignoring the multiple ‘to-read’ shelves in my bedroom, I turned to the amazon bestselling lists and booktuber Leena Norms for recommendations and used my libraries handy tool to reserve books online to pick up a varied selection of books which could satisfy my brain.
One book in particular that I had heard a lot about was the debut novel of Gail Honeyman, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ which is not only a Sunday Times Bestseller but also won the Costa First Novel Book Award for 2017. With all of these awards and a blurb which was intriguing, thought I would give it a go and did not regret it.
This was pretty big book of almost 400 pages but was a real page-turner, and with a few late nights of binge reading I managed to read it within a couple of days.
The book follows Eleanor, a woman in her late twenties, who has always worked in the same job, lived in the same flat and done the same thing every weekend. Eleanor’s life is a monotonous existence lacking in meaningful relationships with friends, family or even co-workers. Eleanor’s past hangs over her head throughout the novel and we hear about her childhood in and out of various foster families following a (to put it lightly) tough time at the hand of her abusive mother. The entrance of what can only be described as a schoolgirl crush over the gorgeous lead singer of a band and an unlikely friendship with a new member of staff at her job flip her monotonous life on its head and give Eleanor the chance to break free from the trauma of her past.
If this sounds like a romance novel, it really is not. Or rather, perhaps it is a romance novel where the real romance taking place is that between our haunted protagonist and her future self. Eleanor is a true anti-hero, ambivalent to the lives taking place around her with little desire to take part in a world which she turns her nose up at whilst simultaneously being bewildered by. The relationship which blossoms between herself and co-worker Raymond is beautifully realistic and leaving the novel open at the end to show that their relationship could either become romantic or not was also frustratingly true to life.
What I liked most about this novel was that it was almost a bildungsroman for a woman past her teenage years. We see Eleanor experiencing a bikini wax for the first time, going to her first music concert and getting drinks at a pub – each new and uncomfortable for her, they slowly help shape Eleanor into a woman no longer trapped by her past. I would seriously recommend this novel to anyone looking for a book which is easy to read whilst being funny and heartwarming.
Another novel which I had seen floating around was The Dark Circle by Linda Grant which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2017. As I enjoy reading a lot of post-war fiction, this really hit the spot and gave an insight into the lives of those who suffered from tuberculosis after WW2.
This novel felt a little bit slow to start off with as the narrative jumps from character to character with little warning which felt quite disjointed but after getting into it around halfway through I really enjoyed the story and the way it flitted between the different characters.
The Dark Circle predominantly follows Jewish twins Lenny and Miriam from London who, in the midst of youth at age 19 are struck with tuberculosis and sent to a sanitarium in the countryside. Now a disease of the past, at the time tuberculosis was deadly and attempted cures included collapsing patients lungs, removing ribs and being sent to lie outside for months on end to bring down their temperatures. Lenny and Miriam meet people from all kinds of backgrounds when they arrive at Gwendo including a German woman who was in a concentration camp because of her sexual orientation, an energetic American with a thing for wooing women and an Oxford graduate whose education and life could not have been more different that their own. As the novel progresses we see the socio and political climate of England following the war with the beginning of the NHS and the implementation of new drugs which can cure TB faster than any other medication.
Although not as easy to get into as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I really did enjoy this novel as it seemed a reminder to me of what the generations before mine live in the shadow of. It is easy to forget the extreme struggles and changes which England and countries all over the world faced following the devastation of the second world war and by focusing on TB, you could see how valuable the NHS was then and is now. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys learning about history but also want to be invited into a snippet of our grand and great grandparents lives.
Next up I am reading The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla.