Book Review: Supermarket

Image: Amazon

Title: Supermarket

Author: Bobby Hall

Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2019)

Rating: 4/5

Its been a very long time since my last post. Due to things going on in my personal life, I haven’t felt like writing for a very long time. I don’t even feel fully like I can now but I thought I would try and write a short review to get back into things.

Synopsis

Flynn (at the start) is your classic aimless millennial who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He is still living at home, working in a Supermarket and trying to write a novel. Working at the Supermarket was supposed to give him a kind of structure in his life and enable him to work on making it as a writer. However, things suddenly, and shockingly, go very wrong.

As readers, we are embedded in the mind of a paranoid, psychotic, schizophrenic. Follow Flynn and the entrails of his mind as he tries to narrate modern life, all the while trying to make something of himself, form friendships and find love. This is a tale of living inside the mind of someone with an array of mental conditions, that is both alluring, funny at times and indefinitely inescapable.

Review

Looking at online ratings of this novel, my hopes were not high when I started reading it. Most people on Goodreads have rated it between 1-2 stars, which seems overwhelmingly harsh. The book is not perfect, but it had me gripped, and for a whole two days I didn’t want to put it down. It shocked me, made me laugh and made me wonder and think a lot about myself.

I was drawn to the protagonist, Flynn in many ways. He is seemingly imperfect, trying to make it as a writer, meanwhile working in a mundane job just to try and keep the money ticking over in the bank. In a lot of ways, his situation mirrored my own current one. Naturally, I felt a connection there.

When the book suddenly turns (and I won’t say why or how as it will give the story away) it gets a bit mad – granted. There appears to be a lot of loose ends that were never tied up, regarding Flynn’s girlfriend, Mia and his close friend, Red. All of a sudden the story ends in the space of five minutes and I was left wondering why and how for a long time. Nonetheless, the twist in this novel really did take me by surprise and I never saw it coming. I was so invested in Flynn and his situation that the final outcome was never something I had initially considered.

This may be a novel by first time author, Bobby Hall, however, I never knew of his musical background or lack of literary experience. In some ways, this does shine through in the novel, when considering the amount of loose ends that are left and the sense of the ending being rushed and suddenly skidding to a halt. However, I thought that this sense of breathlessness largely alluded to the whole premise of the novel and what is is like to live with a mental illness.

This book was unlike any I have read before. I was initially drawn to Flynn as a character and empathized with his lack of direction in his life. I enjoyed the twist to the novel, its occasional dark humor and reflection on societal issues and living with a mental health condition. I believe it deserves far more praise than it appears to have gotten.

Furthermore, it’s a book about writing the book the reader is reading, it knows its a book and flaunts it – which I like.

Give it a try and let me know what you think if you do end up reading it!

“One doesn’t create art for the people who hate it. Plus, when it comes to other writers, if they think it’s bad they’ll hate it because to them it’s bad writing and if it’s good they’ll be covetous, wishing they had done it, and consequently hate on it all the more. So if you”re making your art based on others it’s a lose-lose. and if you say, “screw everyone, I’m gonna make something I love,” you’ll win every time.”

Lemn Sissay: “Going Places”

Image: Pixabay

After my first poetry post, I have since read two new poems. One being, “The Salutation” by Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), and the other, “I am” by John Clare (1793-1864). Although I enjoyed both, it was the fourth one I read that I felt the need to share.

The Poem

Going Places

Another
cigarette ash
television serial filled
advert analysing
cupboard starving
front starving
front room filling
tea slurping
mind chewing
brain burping
carpet picking
pots watching
room gleaming
toilet flushing
night,
with nothing to do

I think I’ll paint roads
on my front room walls
to convince myself
that I’m going places.

Immediate thoughts

Wow. No, seriously. That’s exactly what I thought. It might not be comprehensive, or insightful, but nonetheless, that is what I thought.

In these few lines and words, Sissay manages to convey a feeling not too dissimilar to what I have been feeling at the moment. Daily life when you have nowhere to go, or no distinct direction can be draining. The routines of life can suck the hopes and dreams out of you if you’re not careful.

With a form mirroring breathlessness urgency; this poem manages to bring to light the vulnerability of being young and trying to make it for the first time. Being a recent graduate trying to find work and not giving up on my ‘hopes and dreams,’ this poem really resonated with me.

The sense of repetitiveness it creates with alluding to routine human actions, “tea slurping,” “cupboard starving” and, “toilet flushing” mirrors the sometimes emptiness of being alive. The simple language reinforces this lack of variety that having a busy schedule can bring. Days are counted by how much tea you’ve consumed, and how much food you can eat from your cupboards out of boredom, rather than countless office dramas.

For me, as I am struggling to get a job, I am taking note of the more mundane things. As a result, I can empathize with the, “mind chewing” Sissay so portrays. Your mind is constantly “chewing” over not being good enough, comparing yourself to others and trying to fill your empty days.

For me, this is a poem about losing hope among the relentless mundane aspects of everyday life. It is a poem that feels vulnerable, lonely and sad. The fact the protagonist feels they have to “paint roads” on their walls instead of having a set path or journey, is revealing. I feel like every young adult, struggling to try and make it for the first time, can relate to the vulnerability which seems to be expressed in this poem.

Lemn Sissay

Before reading, I hadn’t heard off Lemn Sissay. But upon a quick google search, I realized I have read his work before. I am slightly familiar with, “Love Poem,”

You remind me
define me
incline me.

If you died I’d.

however, I had never visited his work properly, or taken the time to find out more about him. His work is exactly the kind of vulnerable, honest poetry that I love to read (and attempt to write.) Sissay had a difficult start in life, he was put in foster care between the ages 12-17 and upon leaving, used his unemployment benefit to self publish his own poetry.

Local authorities placed him in the care of a deeply religious foster family in Lancashire, as his birth mother (who came to the UK from Ethiopia) tried to pursue her own education back home. Being subject to abuse in care assessment centers and racial slurs; Sissay has used his poetry as an outlet to portray life in care and the still ever present stigma’s that are attached to having this background. As care leavers; these individuals are naturally assumed to not have the drive that other young people do. It’s a stigma and generalization that still remains.

He became the official poet of the London Olympic games in 2012, and many of his words feature on public monuments.

Image: The Guardian

As well as being a successful poet, Sissay is also the Chancellor of Manchester University and is a major advocate for increasing care leaver access to higher education. As a care leaver myself, this is a cause very close to my heart.

Austerity continues to affect Britain in many ways, but particularly among care leavers. Cuts to local governments have meant that foster careers and children’s center’s have received less grants over the years, and the support given to care leavers has been slashed. Stepping out of foster care for the first time as young adults, many of these individuals have no idea where to start in life and do not have a family network to support them.

The ‘life’ skills so many of students learn whilst we are at university; are simply not something many care leavers will have as they start independent lives.

I think Lemn Sissay is a real credit to the poetry world and to championing the importance of widening care leaver access to higher education. I’m sad I hadn’t heard of him sooner, but will no doubt be seeking out more of his work.

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Image: The Guardian

Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Author: Gail Honeyman

Rating: 5/5

Publisher: HarperCollins, Kindle Edition

Synopsis

Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, follows the simple life of a young woman. Eleanor goes to work five days a week, comes home on the Friday, has rather a lot to drink, and catches up on sleep over the weekend.

At work, she doesn’t talk to many people, but always gets on with the day. She doesn’t go out and socialize on Friday nights or the weekends, despite the expectation. Once a week, she receives a phone-call from her Mum, which is her only real form of communication outside work. She lives a simple life, but one that is seemingly lonely and void of human interaction, friendship and support.

Her relationship with her Mum, is told through a series of weekly phone calls. These phone calls are often hard to take in, due to the sheer level of emotional abuse her Mum conveys to her over the phone.

“Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.”

Gail Honeyman

After a certain turn of events, feauturing helping an elderly gentleman after he had a fall and becoming (acccidentally) friends with a work colleague from the IT department, Eleanor begins to realise her life is very lonely, and in fact, socialising isn’t too bad (in moderation.)

The novel gradually unravels troubling elements of Eleanor’s past, we learn fairly early on that she grew up in the care system but for a while, never discover why. With the help of her new friend, Raymound, Eleanor begins the journey of coming to terms with her past. This novel is as true as they come. Through Eleanor, we get an insight into the realities of loneliness, depression, and fractured family life.

“I have been waiting for death all my life. I do not mean that I actively wish to die, just that I do not really want to be alive.”

Gail Honeyman

Review

Strangely enough, I picked up this book in the Kindle deals for £1, thinking it would be a nice ‘in-between read,’ as I am still ploughing my way through Ducks, Newburyport. However, I was pleasantly surprised and found myself utterly drawn to the book, so much so that I didn’t read a single page of Ducks, Newburyport. Nonetheless, it is far more complex than the ‘light and fluffy’ type read that I initially had it down for.

After reading internet reviews, it seems that many people didn’t take to the main character, Eleanor Oliphant, very well. Or rather, didn’t know how to feel about her. However, I immediately took to her. I liked the way she actively defies social expectations, says what she thinks – she conveyed a huge amount of honesty and integrity as a character; which meant I was drawn towards her. Often, she made me laugh out loud too.

Part of my reasons for loving this novel is because I found myself relating to Eleanor so much. Like Eleanor, I too experienced the care system, although not to the same extremities as herself. I too, sometimes struggle in social situations and often withdraw myself into the comfort of my own home. However, apart from feeling a sense of attachment towards her, I enjoyed the novel in its entirety. Upon reading it, I could not predict what was going to come next, yet I could not put the book down.

This novel should be praised and read for its sheer honesty and exploration of many contemporary, social issues which are not fully discussed openly within mainstream society. Eleanor is a young woman suffering from crippling loneliness, depression, social withdrawal and alcoholism – although she would rarely drink to excess in public. As a young woman in her thirties, society tells her she should have her whole life together. However, this novel sheds an important light onto the realities of everyday life as a young adult – and the fact that not everyone can always have it together.

It’s a novel that deals with some very difficult subjects but is delivered in the most lighthearted, honest and engaging way. Eleanor Oliphant begins to open up more herself as the novel progresses. Upon finishing the book; the reader begins to be reassured that Eleanor Oliphant; is going to be completely fine.

Reading in progress: Ducks, Newburyport

Image: Galley Beggar Press

I am almost four hundred pages into Lucy Ellmann’s 2019 Booker prize shortlisted work, which would usually be pretty much near the end of a usual paperback. However, it feels like I have a life time to go before I reach the final end. Trust me, I am enjoying it really (in bouts).

I was drawn to reading the novel, I admit, slightly because of its reputation but more because of its standout title and appearance. Featuring a blue cover with a rubber duck on the inside jacket, accompanied by the prestige of a Booker prize nominee sticker – I thought, what could go wrong?

The truth be told – I have gone through waves of loving and hating this book. However, one thing is for sure, I have never read anything like it and I definitely admire it for its attempt to re-work the barriers of fiction and the message it is trying to convey. In sense, I feel connected to it as the main character has all the types of worries and weird thoughts as I do.

And it feels especially relatable at the moment, considering Donald Trump’s recent actions in Iran.

Overall, despite its (at times) frustrating lack of format and order; I am drawn to the Ohio housewife’s critique of the world; especially contemporary American issues, however, I admit, I am missing the traditional structures of the novel. Chapters, dialogue, charaterisation and background. But I can’t help thinking, perhaps that’s the very point?

Upon finishing, I will update in due course.