Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor

Today was meant to be my next Chitter-Chatter day. Today, I wanted to talk about books’ re-ratings.

Then I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and changed my mind. I must tell you about this book. I just have to get it out of my system before I forget… 🙂

I started reading it on Monday’s night this week and had it not been for that pesky thing called work, I would have read it till early hours of Tuesday morning.

I told you Educated was my book of 2018. Well, I’m not sure if it still holds. I really, really fell in love with Eleanor, who is completely fine by the way, thanks for asking.


I’ll start with a warning.

This book deals with some tough issues such as loneliness, social isolation, child abuse, shame as well as death. I will include trigger warnings at the end of my post but if you are sensitive to any of these, please proceed with care, it is a sad book.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant (Ms.). Our main protagonist. She is of course, as the title suggests, completely fine.

Or is she?

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 

Eleanor is someone, you just cannot help falling in love with. She has no social skills, doesn’t understand emotions or relationships and likes to say it as it is. Whilst thinking she is doing everyone a favour of course.

She is a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t want to purposely hurt anyone but can not keep her mouth shut at times. She can be judgemental and even arrogant at times but as the story starts unfolding, we start glimpses of where that thinking is coming from. And she is willing to grow. Something I find fundamental when deciding whether to like a character or not. Her highly articulate and brilliantly descriptive thoughts made me laugh out loud so many times. This book strikes a lovely balance in bittersweetness. There are many extremely sad parts but there is also this warm undercurrent of human goodness.

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.” 

Eleanor likes her routine, which is an admin work from 9 to 5, combined with a meal-deal lunch and a crossword puzzle. She also enjoys a few bottles of vodka on weekends, which help her with her sleeping habits. Then there are those regular Wednesdays’ calls with Mummy… but Mummy is someone we don’t like to talk about a lot. And then there’s the man of her dreams. She finally found him. He doesn’t know it yet but it’s only a matter of time…

Eleanor is an extremely intelligent person. She likes order and logic. Here’s an example of what she thought of some of those warning signs we like to put onto everything these days. This is her first McDonalds’ coffee experience:

“There was nothing to tempt me from the choice of desserts, so I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly. I began to suspect that Mr. McDonald was a very foolish man indeed, although, judging from the undiminished queue, a wealthy one.”

There is something raw and vulnerable about Eleanor. She never belonged anywhere. She had a challenging upbringing and also happens to suffer with acute shame, which makes her shy away from a human interaction. She is lonely and withdrawn. There is also that numbing part thanks to those bottles of vodka. I talked about numbing in this post. When we numb difficult emotions, we also numb those lovely emotions such as happiness and joy. They don’t stand a chance. And you can feel that in this book. You definitely can.

I loved everything about Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Its witty writing, consistent pacing and all those wonderful characters. Eleanor is the main protagonist but there are many supporting personalities that I enjoyed reading about as well. They are really what this book is all about. They are vivid, charming and you just want to know a little bit more of them and have to keep on reading.

Trigger warnings: child abuse, emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault, self-harm, suicide, depression and addiction. As said, it is not a light-hearted fun book, please take care if you are sensitive to these. ❤️

Recommended? Yes! Yes! Yes! Especially if you enjoy character driven books. It’s an utterly mesmerising book that will make you laugh whilst having tears in your eyes.


Over to you:

  • Have you read this book? If so, what did you think?
  • If you haven’t read this book, what do you think? Fancy reading it?
Fiction

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

great alone

“Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold.”

 “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” by Robert W. Service.


The Great Alone melted my heart. 🙂 What worked for me in particular was that it wasn’t just a love story. Love did play an extremely important part in it but it was not the only focus point. Something I appreciated a lot.

After I have had some time to digest The Great Alone, I feel a few clichés were used, its ending seemed a bit rushed and there was a lot of drama that at times felt a little bit too… unnecessary.

But…

I loved it. My emotions were all over the place – I laughed, cried… and I wholeheartedly recommend this book despite of those points above.


Before I dive into my review, here’s what Goodreads‘ says about it:

Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love.

Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen year old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women.

About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah’s ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.


The Great Alone is set in 70’s and is a coming-of-age story of 13-year-old Leni. I loved her straight away. She is an avid reader, a keen photographer but also feels lonely as her family moves from place to place. She is this curious and sensitive character that will melt your heart.

The story begins fully when her father Ernt decides to take her and her mum Cora to Alaska.

The Great Alone is a survival story. The survival is not just about lasting through harsh Alaskan winters though, it is also about facing increasingly unpredictable and volatile home dynamics.

“All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.” 

There is another survival story there, which Ernt is going through. He is a war veteran and his story of survival is how he manages to cope with all that emotional pain he endured during the war.

I thought Hannah’s touching on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was important. This was 70’s. People didn’t talk about PTSD then. I do not condone any form of abusive behaviour and I think it is absolutely not OK to behave in such way – but having that knowledge of what Ernt went through made me understand, where his behaviour may have been coming from.

Side note: I am aware that not every brave soldier suffers from PTSD and that those who may suffer from it don’t necessarily exhibit abusive behaviour either. But I do believe that there are many heroic soldiers that need our help, and who may feel our system sometimes fails them. I hope things are better these days than they were in the 70’s, but I think we should still be raising an awareness around such a difficult topic. 

I thought at times, Ernt’s wife Cora senses that too. She knows that war changed her husband. She remembers what he was like ‘before’ and is hoping that her sticking by him and loving him could heal him somehow.

“Love and fear. The most destructive forces on earth. Fear had turned her inside out, love had made her stupid.” 


The Great Alone‘s story gently flows through the harsh and cold Alaskan wilderness. Hannah’s writing is extremely atmospheric; I felt I was in the stunning Alaska the entire time. Protagonists are well developed, the supporting characters are charming and I fell for all of them big time.

The questions I kept on asking myself whilst reading this book were following: “what does it mean to be alive?” and “how do we leave people we love?

Recommended: Yes! 

Possible triggers: Domestic abuse. Please do take care. 


Over to you now. As always, I love hearing from you.

  • Have you read The Great Alone?
  • If not, what do you think of its blurb? Is that something you may enjoy?

 

Fiction

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

big little lies

I loved this book. It was my March’s book of the month.

It is a wonderful story of a friendship of three women, their dealings with motherhood as well as having to come to terms with some dark demons from their pasts.

I saw many shame related topics in this book. Moriarty deeply understands human behaviour and portrayed honest struggles of mothers and women in general.


Before we dive into this book, let’s have a look at GoodReads’ blurb first:

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.


There are three distinct voices, three unique stories, all intertwining over a mysterious murder story. I enjoyed the suspense of something just about to be revealed throughout the book. You know from the beginning that someone was murdered. But you don’t know who it was and why. That guessing game kept me engaged till the end.

The book is told from three different perspectives:

  • Madeline: on the outside, a strong and forceful mother who knows what she wants. On the inside, she is coming to grips with her teenage daughter rebelliousness and deals with shame over her parenting / motherhood.
  • Celeste:  on the outside, she is the ‘I have it all and I am so blessed’ mother, on the inside, she is harbouring many dark secrets, which she perceives as being partially caused by her own making. Side note: shame at its most powerful form.
  • Jane: another broken character. She is younger than the one two women and her voice reflects that. She also struggles with shame and does not believe that she is enough. Her story of coming to grips with her past was one of the most powerful parts of this book.

What all these perspectives shared was their dealings with shame.

Before we look at shame, here’s a quick note on the difference between shame and guilt.

Let’s say you promised your friend you water her plants for her. And somehow you forgot / didn’t get around to it and those plants died.

Guilt is you recognising you broke your promise and your behaviour was not in line with who you want to be. You feel guilty for your actions or rather the lack of them.

Shame on the other hand is when you internalise this incident and will make it mean all about you, rather than your actions. You will feel terrible for who you are and will feel like you, not your actions, failed your friend. As a consequence, you may feel like a failure.

Guilt can enable us to grow; shame on the other hand wants us to hide.

Shame loves secrecy and will try to prevent you from sharing that deep feeling of not being good enough with anyone else around you. They must not know at any cost!

What’s interesting is that women tend to get shame triggered on different topics than man. I guess it’s not surprising given how our society shapes us and what gender roles we observe whilst growing up.

Women tend to experience shame predominantly regarding their appearance and parenting.

Have you noticed when a discussion starts turning ugly, someone’s looks are usually amongst the first ammunition that gets used amongst women? Parenting comments are usually the next in line… All so readily available and capable of causing us a lot of pain.

I know when shame washes over me immediately. My face goes red, I feel like I want to hide under a blanket and not talk to anyone for days. My breathing becomes shallow, I may start sweating and all I want is to hide. I hate it. I absolutely hate that warm feeling of shame. The flip side is that via experiencing it, I must, be default, not be a psychopath… oh goody… thank goodness for the flip side eh? 😉

Anyhow, as I am growing I have learned that shame hates sharing. Opening up and being vulnerable with people I love and trust creates connections and makes me heal / cope much better.

With a risk of sounding like a broken record: Dr Brené Brown’s books on shame and vulnerability are my favourite non-fiction books. She offers many useful tips on shame resilience, is a great story teller and I am her big fan. ❤

I digressed a little. Following extract from the book deeply resonated with me:

“It wasn’t telling __ about ___. It was repeating those stupid little words he’d said.

They needed to stay secret to keep their power.

Now they were deflating, the way a jumping castle sagged and wrinkled as the air hissed out.”

So true!

All those little lies we tell ourselves to keep going, all those little secrets we harvest in the hope that no one will discover the real truth about us as we believe we may not be good enough and are desperately trying to become someone else. That’s Big Little Lies in a nutshell.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who likes character driven books. Moriarty’s characters are utterly believable.

I could not put it down, it made me cry at times but it also gave me hope.

5 out of 5 stars without a shadow of a doubt.

Possible triggers: domestic abuse and abuse in general

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple 5/5

Fiction

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

what alice forgotI didn’t know much about both the book and the writer beforehand. The lovely Norrie from Reading under the Blankie recommended me this book.

Before I tell you what I think of this book, let’s take a look at what GoodReads says about it first:

Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child.

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. 

Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over. 

Imagine waking up one day with no recollection whatsoever of your last 10 years.

Imagine finding out you have three children, who are strangers to you, and whose births you don’t remember.

Imagine the love of your love despises you and is divorcing you.

Imagine travelling to your future.

I was intrigued by the concept.

I don’t own many things but I love collecting experiences and memories. I cherish all adventures I have had with my loved ones.

I equally love learning and growing.

It would be devastating having the memory of my last 10 years wiped out in an accident. Yet unfortunate accidents happen and the book’s realistic premise was something that drove me to it.

What Alice Forgot is primary narrated from Alice’s third person perspective as she is trying to piece together the last 10 years of her life. I enjoyed the aspect of her self-discovery as she is forced to look at herself from another perspective. She is a fairly naïve time traveller, who just cannot comprehend why and how she has become the person everyone keeps on telling her about.

Apart from Alice’s voice, there are two other narratives that I enjoyed as well.

We get to know Alice’s sister, Elizabeth via her diary, which she writes as a part of her therapy assignment. Her voice is so different to Alice’s. It is sarcastic, dark and sometimes brutally raw. I could understand the walls she built around herself and how much pain she must have been in.

And then there is Frannie, Alice’s granny. I loved this character. She sort of reminded me of my witty ‘cool’ grandma. We get to hear her voice via her little blog entries, which ended up being one of my favourite parts of the book.

I love stories that made me think and this one did that job magnificently.

As I read What Alice Forgot I tried to look at my own life through the eyes of my younger self. I kept on asking myself: ‘what would my younger self think of this?’.

I had to pick one thing that I would personally prefer to be a bit different, it would probably be the ending. It was just a little ‘too neat’ for my liking.

Despite of that, I loved the book and would recommend it to everyone, who enjoys character driven books and who is fascinated by ‘time travel’.

Verdict: : Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple (4/5)