My top reads for the year so far

Lying in bed trying to sleep the other night, it suddenly dawned on me that we are nearly half way through the year. 2020 has been a strange one so far, and it will probably be strange for a long time, but one things for sure, I’ve definitely rediscovered my love of reading now that I’m not a full-time student. In this post I thought I would share with you three of my favourite books I have read this year. What have been your best reads so far? Let me know!

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

I have definitely been late to the party with the Hilary Mantel craze, I think I’ve always been put off reading the series as being a history graduate, I’m naturally wary about historical fiction and the way it can distort the truth and change people’s perception on history for the worse. However I was so surprised with how good this was, and in fact, it probably changes our historical perspective for the better.

Reading this was honestly an experience of pure joy, Mantel manages to capture all the tiny details of the drama that unfolds during the court of Henry VIII, through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. I love how the protagonist is Cromwell, who is commonly thought of as the historical underdog. The reader becomes his eyes and ears and is fully immersed in the trials and tribulations of what it is like to serve the tumultuous monarch that was Henry VIII.

This was the first book I read in lockdown and I don’t think I could have picked a better one – it provided me with pure escapism and living in another world. The writing is beautiful and really captures your imagination. It really went beyond my expectations and I can’t wait to read the others!

“You could watch Henry every day for a decade and not see the same thing. Choose your prince: he admires Henry more and more. Sometimes he seems hapless, sometimes feckless, sometimes a child sometimes a master of his trade. Sometimes he seems an artist, in the way his eye ranges over his work; sometimes his hand moves and he doesn’t seem to see it move. If he had been called to a lower station in life, he could have been a travelling player, and leader of his troupe.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying, George Orwell

I’ve always been a fan of George Orwell. I can still remember the exact moment and feelings I experienced when I first read 1984. Since then, I’ve been trying to read more widely and getting beyond the texts he is prominently known for, I’m truly surprised that this novel is not one that more people have read.

I loved it from start to finish and was naturally drawn to the story and protagonist, as Gordon Comstock leaves his unfulfilling job to work in a bookshop. Sounds pretty perfect, right? Except it isn’t so easy. Gordon struggles with a lack of money and cannot resuscitate his writing ambitions, he feels lost and directionless but also angry that he has to come to terms with depending on the vast forces of capitalism (that he despises), to make a success of himself.

It contains some classic Orwell elements – the portrayal of inner city poverty, wealth inequality, critique of capitalism and the rich, but with a rather nuanced and different type of story from Orwell’s other writings. I loved the protagonist and his ambitious nature, expressed in voluntarily leaving his well paid job to pursue something he loved, even if this meant his quality of life would be near to living below the poverty line.

“He had blasphemed against money, rebelled against money, tried to live like an anchorite outside the money-world; and it had brought him not only misery, but also a frightful emptiness; an inescapable sense of futility. To abjure money is to abjure life.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

I devoured this book from start to finish. I downloaded it onto my Kindle because it was on offer and didn’t expect much from it, however, I ended up loving it. Initial impressions of this book are that it’s going to be a somewhat light read, but as the story goes on, we find out more about Eleanor Oliphant, and for one, realise, she is not completely fine, and she has a rather dark past and struggles with managing her current life.

I was attracted to the main character – as I enjoyed her frequent musings on defying social expectations and norms and found her to be very funny, and despite her own appearances she holds up, very likeable.

However, under the surface she is incredibly lonely and endures a silent life of alcoholism every weekend to escape from the repetitiveness of work and her tiresome phone-calls from her mother, who frankly bullies her. Everyday, the people around her take her for granted. From narration of her life, her habits and routines, you can really see how this kind of life can be easily slipped into – the book has a kind of realistic, relatable factor which I enjoyed, it seemed very real.

One event spirals into another and Eleanor Oliphant is finally able to work on herself, as a reader, you want her to have a happy ending. I loved this book and would read it again and again!

“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allowed span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”

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.