Tag Archives: Harper Collins

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Hopefully in the future realms of time, if my plans work out which they are often unlikely to do, this won’t be noticeable as the blog post that ‘brought Savidge Reads back’ after some time away. Yet when I was thinking about which book I should ‘come back’ with it seemed Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was the most apt as it is the book I have talked about the most in a literal sense in the last year or so. The reason for that being that is was the winner of the category (debuts) I judged for last year’s Costa Awards. It is the book that I have had some of the most heated conversations about, not with my fellow judges (Sandy and Sophie who were both a joy) though we talked about it at length, with people in my day to day life who felt very strongly one way or the other and were surprised when it won. I wasn’t surprised. No, not because I knew in advance, ha, but because I think it is a book that can appeal to anyone and does a huge variety of things, with so many layers, and remains wonderfully readable – a word which can open a huge can of worms but I am not literary snob and embrace the joys of readability. Anyway, the book…

Harper Collins, paperback, 2018, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the Costa Awards

 When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost eight years, no one’s ever asked me what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether it’s just that people hear the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at keyboard. I’m not complaining. I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.

And so we are thrown into the life of Eleanor Oliphant a woman whom to many would seem in the centre of society, with a decent job her own home etc, but who actually has become someone much more on the periphery of society that the facade of a ‘steady life’ would let on. She does her nine to five, Monday to Friday, and at the end of the latter she buys herself a few margarita pizzas and a couple of bottles of vodka and drinks the weekend away. It is here that the novel then takes two paths, though with many layers. Firstly we wonder why it is that Eleanor has found herself in this position and secondly we wonder how this cycle might be broken.

It is the latter that unfolds itself first. Walking home with a colleague Ray, who seems to want to befriend Eleanor much to her confusion, they witness an elderly man collapse and in helping him become embroiled further with each other and Sammy. A turning point in Eleanor’s life has come, even if she doesn’t really see it as an opportunity she particularly wants, the question is how she will deal with it? Especially when she has recently become besotted with a local pop star who she thinks she is destined to marry.

As to why Eleanor has ended up so isolated and alone, Honeyman does something which I really admired – if admittedly it does go a little twist-tatsic (I might trademark that) towards the end. We get a slow reveal which is at once heartbreaking but also eye opening. It is hard to say anything for fear of spoilers but there is some serious trauma in her past which we are slowly alluded to. For me the most heartbreaking moments were much more subtle, and this is what I hope to see lots more of in Honeyman’s writing in the future, where a single paragraph says so much within its subtext and the reader can start to fill in the blanks to much emotional effect.

 She came with me from my childhood bedroom, survived the rough treatment in foster placements and children’s homes and, like me, she’s still here. I’ve looked after her, tended to her, picked her up and repotted her when she was dropped or thrown. She likes the light, and she’s thirsty. Apart from that, she requires minimal care and attention, and largely looks after herself. I talk to her sometimes, I’m not ashamed to admit it. When the silence and aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me like ice, I need to speak aloud, if only for proof of life.

That makes this novel sound like it is a misery feast and that is not the case at all, often I found myself chuckling along as I read. (I have said many a time on this blog in the past that a good dose of comedy can make the darker parts of a book all the more so.) As Eleanor reluctantly forces herself out into the world more and more the deadpan comedy comes in many high street spaces such as her first visit for a wax. ‘Hollywood’, I said, finally. ‘Holly would, and so would Eleanor’. Yet, again, here Honeyman does something which I think is very clever, she occasionally blurs the lines between when we are laughing with and laughing at Eleanor. A short sharp shock every now and again that we are doing exactly what those horrid co-workers are doing we dislike so much at the start. This isn’t intended as judgement, it is simply a reminder to check ourselves once in a while, to be kinder.

That said Eleanor is not always particularly kind herself. But her flaws and quirks are what make her such an interesting character. Her directness often made me ponder if we are meant to assume that she is on the autistic scale, though sometimes she is just simply rude to people. This is a woman though who has been so much on the sidelines of the world that everything seems as at odds with her as she as with it. It also reminds us that not everyone is instantly loveable but they are always relatable and there is almost always, if we make the effort to look and don’t expect everyone to come to us, an ‘in’ to their world.

 When Raymond returned, I paid for lunch, since he had paid last time; I was really starting to get the hang of the concept of a payment schedule. He insisted on leaving the tip, however. Five pounds! All the man had done was carry our food from the kitchen to the table, a job for which he was already being recompensed by the cafe owner. Raymond was reckless and profligate – no wonder he couldn’t afford proper shoes or an iron.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is very much like its central character; quirky, funny, frank and honest. Once you look past that facade it is also brimming with layers about being different but not being obviously or any stereotype of different. It is a blunt, yet digestible which is not always easy, look at the awful nature of loneliness and how easy it can be to become a loner. It is also about hope and a reminder that we should never judge anyone by any assumptions we might make of them. I applaud it for all of these things.

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Gail Honeyman, Harper Collins, Review

The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010”. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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The Body in the Library – Agatha Christie

I realised that actually The Body in the library isn’t the second Miss Marple written by Agatha Christie after I picked it up from my Christie post the other day. I also realised I have completely broken my ‘read things in order’ rule I like for a series of books as I had already read At Bertram’s Hotel (actually the eleventh), 4.50 From Paddington (which I always think is the first but is actually the eighth) and then the actual first Marple novel The Murder at The Vicarage. I was slightly narked at myself but I needed a Marple and Christie fest and didn’t have The Thirteen Problems so I just went with it.

The title ‘The Body in the Library’ kind of gives away just what is coming in the opening pages. Yes that’s right, the Bantry household awakes to find that there is indeed a body of an unknown platinum blonde in their library. No one in the household has seen the young girl before and it takes some time for the police to track her down. However it doesn’t take that long for Miss Jane Marple to appear on the scene as Mrs Bantry, a close friend, sends a chauffeur round for her pronto phoning ahead before ‘the recognised time to make friendly calls to neighbours’.

The police having met Miss Marple and her amateur sleuthing naturally want her gone as soon as possible. She doesn’t leave until she overhears that the victim was a dancer at the Hotel Majestic in Danemouth and before long Mrs Bantry and Miss Marple just so happen to take a small holiday there. So who was this girl, how did she end up in a strangers library in St Mary’s Mead and who took her there and killed her? Well you will have to read this joyous romp to find out.

Reading Agatha Christie this time round and taking slightly longer than the normal one sitting I noticed the wry humour she has that I spotted after seeing ‘The Spiders Web’ on stage the other week. Even from the wonderful opening paragraph there it is “Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a first at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in a cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing-suit, but as is the blessed habit of dreams this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life…

Those of you who read regularly will know I love village life and old ladies who are either a bit doolally or gossip and in the book we have both. Again the rye wit comes through in lines such as when we meet one of the villagers “Miss Wetherby, a long nosed, acidulated spinster, was the first to spread the intoxicating information”. Or when one woman in the village defends another to Miss Marple “Selena Blake is the nicest woman imaginable. Her herbaceous borders are simply marvellous – they make me green with envy. And she’s frightfully generous with her cuttings.’

I really took stock of Agatha Christie’s writing this time whilst try to hunt the killer and motives and it added immensely to my latest Christie reading. There was only one draw back and that was about half way in I suddenly remembered the TV version and so didn’t need to guess the killer as I remembered. If it hadn’t been for the great writing I wouldn’t have carried on but I found myself wanting to continue observing Christie’s characterization, red herring and clue dropping and scene setting. A truly wonderful read, I shall have to have a Christie moment much more often.

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Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers

I will discuss the sudden turnaround of my going from starting Cover Her Face by P.D James to reading Miss Garnet’s Angel in more detail tomorrow when I will be asking you your thoughts on a certain subject that it has brought to light. For now though I thought I would get on with reviewing a book that completely took me by surprise and one that I have actually owned before decided wouldn’t be for me and so gave away only to the purchase it recently once more.

Miss Garnet’s Angel firstly it should be said is utterly wonderful. For me it had a real mixture of the quirky heroine of a 1930’s – 1950’s book you would think Virago would have published (they don’t publish this book) and also has the setting and prose of a classic that E.M. Forster could have penned, a combination which makes it highly and delightfully readable. I think all of this contributed to it being an utter hit with me.

We meet our narrator Julia Garnet just after she decides to rent out her home after the death of her house mate and fellow teacher Harriet who “she hated that people assumed they were lesbians” which shows the slight humour in the writing of Salley Vickers from the start. Taking the death as a sign she needs to be more daring in life so she decides to take an extended holiday to Venice. This isn’t a tale about loss and grief even though it is very much part of the book, it also doesn’t darken or make the book depressive, what the book is essentially about is a middle aged woman finding herself and facing her past through the people she meets the situations she gets into and the sights and discoveries she takes in. She is a very interesting character still a virgin and still incredibly repressed we watch as she emerges out of herself after a long time being so unsure who she is.  

Some of the wonderful characters she meets are a pair of holidaying Canadians, the young and slightly unruly Nicco who becomes a student, her incredibly interfering (in a wonderful way) the charming Carlo who seems to be the first man to have ever make her heart truly flutter and the mysterious twins Toby and Sarah the later of who are working on the restoration of Chapel of the Plague. In fact meeting the later three leads her to finding a painting that seems to call out to her and tells the story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael. These stories are then interwoven by Vickers as Julia unravels the tale she herself unravels, it’s wonderfully worked.

I thought this was an utterly wonderful novel and it has only taken one book to make me fairly sure that Vickers will soon become a favourite. Though are the rest of her books tinged quite so much with the religious? I don’t like books that preach and this one never did but there were a few moments when I was slightly concerned but how could you depict Venice without the religious symbols and stories and it works just right with the ongoing story of Julia’s self discovery. It’s an unstated and yet thought provoking tale that says so much so subtly. Beautiful prose, delightful characters and a sprinkling of mystery and history just what you need when you want to get lost in a book. To think this was Vickers debut novel is quite astounding I hope that the rest of her books are as good as this one? What of Vickers have you read and loved and which Vickers novel should I read next?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Harper Collins, Review, Salley Vickers

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill

This is the seventh of this years book group choices by Richard and Judy and I have to admit as I said previously a while back I wasn’t convinced I was going to like this. Sold as a tale of a man whose wife leaves him to go back to England after the tragedy of 9/11 and then decides building a cricket pitch is what New York really needs alongside the unusual Chuck I thought that it sounded quite different. Especially with the twist that Chuck is pulled out of a New York canal hands tied behind his back and having been dead for quite some time I thought there might be some added mystery.

What the book turns out to be is more a description of New York after 9/11 and looks at the people living there and how they cope. It also looks at what affect this has one the marriage of our narrator Hans van den Broek and his wife Rachel who cannot cope in the aftermath and such atrocities, this was for me the most interesting story in the book. It isn’t Hans who has the plan to make a cricket pitch it is in fact Chuck a character with darkness who doesn’t seem to be all he appears. A great unreliable character though, he sadly isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked as I found him quite entertaining. The rest of the story evolves around what happens in the years between Rachel leaving and Hans hearing that Chuck is dead.

I didn’t really gel with this book at all. I started of liking it however the marital strife of a life changed by chaos and horror in New York is done and dusted within fifty pages or so. Then what follows is a succession of characters and incidents that flow through Hans depressing years after of which all bar Chuck and cricket come and go with no real relevance or point. This seems like a very long winded essay of the writer’s thoughts on America and the cultural societies in New York after 9/11 which drifts off at tangents that I couldn’t follow. I just didn’t care what happened to them again bar Chuck, I wont say the ending but I was left confused and slightly non-plussed and all in all quite nonchalant.

For me, though I know many people have absolutely loved this book, I ended up feeling quite disappointed and I wasn’t that excited about the book anyway. I didn’t feel I knew enough about Hans to want to follow his story and could actually see why his wife left him, though technically she was leaving the city. I did give the book a fair chance and I did finish it when at some points I didn’t want to, so I gave it my all I just don’t think it was quite the book for me. I’d be interested to hear other peoples thoughts though.

In the additional P.S section that Harper Perennial do in their books, which I think is genius and give you much more insight, the author says this book was hard to sell to publishers and kept getting rejected over and over again. I could sadly see why. It annoyed me a little that a book like this has gained such publicity, been long listed for the Man Booker and now is on the Richard and Judy list whereas wonderful thought provoking beautifully written books like State of Happiness (which I am still thinking about all the time) by Stella Duffy don’t and they should. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully next weeks book The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin will be much better!

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Filed under Harper Collins, Joseph O'Neill, Review, Richard and Judy

The Boy in the Dress – David Walliams

It’s always a bit worrying when a celebrity decides to write a novel, firstly are they actually writing the novel and secondly just because they are famous does that mean that they can actually write? Well in the case of David Walliams yes he did write the book and yes he can indeed write and very well too.

The Boy in the Dress is a tale about Dennis, he is different, and why is he different? “Well a small clue might be in the title of this book.” I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dennis is not only dealing with the fact that his Mum left the family when he was young, his family don’t talk about her and they don’t really communicate or show emotion as it’s not deemed as manly. Dennis also likes dresses and when he finds Vogue things really change.

Walliams deals with the subject very sensitively whilst also with great humour and most importantly in a way that kids (and adults) will enjoy. It isn’t just the fact that the illustrations are by Quentin Blake that whilst you’re reading it you are reminded of a modern version of Roald Dahl. The humour helps but it’s the way the book progresses with the hero’s and the villains and the school mentality which in some ways reminded me of Matilda. I loved Roald Dahl as a child and think that legions of children will love this book. I only hope that Walliams doesn’t stop the book writing at novel number one.

A short review I know but it’s a very short book and at the same time I don’t want to give too much away. All I will say is that I was touched by this book and found myself laughing the whole way through. I would recommend this to anyone who has kids or who wants a read that cheers you up in the few hours it will take to read.

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Look Who It Is – Alan Carr

Now of course coming up to Christmas this is the big season for the autobiography and everyone seems to suddenly release one. Now I am not the biggest fan of autobiographies (even though I get them by the shed load for Christmas) in fact the last one I bought was one of the Spice Girls but lets mover swiftly on as that was about ten years ago. Alan Carr’s was in a lovely pile from Harper Collins that they deliciously sent out to me.

I think Alan Carr is hilarious, I gather he is a bit like marmite in the fact that some people love him and some people hate him. I did wonder what an autobiography of his would entail as he isn’t old. I knew it would be funny, and I was proved right on that. I haven’t laughed out loud on a tube so much reading a book ever, the looks I was getting were something special. He is incredibly funny. I promise you there will be much mirth reading this book. “Puberty had been unkind. Whereas it had come in the night and left the other boys with chiselled, stubbly chins and deep masculine voices, I’d been left with a huge pair of knockers and the voice of a pensioner.”

In terms of him not having enough to write about I was proven completely wrong. He starts from his younger days when his father was in charge of the football clubs with his son being the least football interested child and how that felt, travels around the world after university to doing data entry for Mr Dog. There is a lot of heart in this book and what I find interesting is Alan Carr’s self doubt that he could make people laugh and that for him until a few years ago comedy was something he never even dreamed of doing as he didn’t think he could. He of course tells you all this with such comic timing and writing that you are giggling all the way through. My particular favourite stories involved him and cats or dogs they seemed to make me laugh endlessly but I think it’s the way that he writes it.

There is definitely the possibility of a second autobiography as this book finishes pretty much at the start of his joining The Friday Night Project so you don’t get to hear what the celebrities he has met are like which come Heat Magazine fans might have loved to see. What you do get is a delightful insight to a boy growing up in Norwich, dealing with slight confusion of who he is and what he is all about and going on to drama school and eventually the comedy circuit with all the highs and lows along the way. I recommend this to anyone who like a laugh and if you are an Alan Carr fan this is unmissable. 4.5/5

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