It is a few months in to the year and I am making sure to remind myself that there is no hard and fast rule to reading. Obviously. Take it at my own pace, admit if there is a book I am not enjoying, move on, maybe come back to it later, maybe not. I think that rather than trying to reach a seemingly impossible number, it is way more valuable to spend time on books I really feel a connection to. That being said, I feel that in the spirit of all things social distancing, my pile of finished books will grow exponentially over the next few weeks.
Let’s talk about Gail Honeyman’s novel, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. I had been meaning to give this a go for quite some time, picking it up in charity shops, but putting it down again out of feelings of uncertainty. Then one chance visit to Lucy’s, talking about books results in me leaving with a copy loaned out for me to finally read.
For myself, this was not a ‘read in one sitting’ book, not that many are these days. This was a slow burner, and I was initially uncertain that it would live up to the hype from last year, but my god did it deliver. To call it a leisurely read is slightly off, but between all the dark moments, the nature of the story telling itself was very much that. At one point I nearly cried on the train, happy tears fortunately, although that is not to say that other moments almost had me crying out of sadness. It is a book that tackles the most tender and most beautiful moments in the life of Eleanor Oliphant who is first introduced as somewhat, troubled, you could say.
I wasn’t sure if I entirely liked Eleanor at first, but the beauty of this book is that this is the very nature of her existence in this world. Someone you can’t seem to understand at first, who may seem brash and rude, but once you uncover a few of her secrets, everything clicks and you just fall so deeply in love with Miss Oliphant. The more you read, the more you warm to Eleanor and her ways, getting absorbed in her life at present, finding pleasure in the mundane everyday, only to be shocked with the brutal memories of her past. As we progress through the book, a sense of hope is cut short by the heading – ‘Bad Days’. These two words alone broke my heart for Eleanor. If the previous chapters had been ‘Good Days’, I was a little worried to see what the bad days would bring and I felt bad for feeling the need to know more of her past before being able to accept her – all she needs is a little time. Gail Honeyman does not shy away from introducing these bad days, throwing us into complete turmoil with how dramatically things take a turn for our dear Miss Oliphant.
It is hard to talk about the story line itself without giving too much away so instead I’ll just talk about how it made me feel as whole. One line that stands out to me is “it occurs to me that there are many things in life that I’ve never considered doing…I suppose I hadn’t realised that I had any control over them. That sounds ridiculous, I know” – a very personally poignant line that I had to stop and think about for a while as it connects with the very thoughts and feelings I have been having myself lately. I got so wrapped up in what Oliphant is thinking and doing with her life and suddenly things are thrown out to put my own life into perspective. Even so, that is such a small take away from this novel. It is honestly such a touching tale with moments I will remember for a long time.
The next book I managed to complete was Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer. This was lent to me after yet another conversation about books with another pal, and further praised when I shared it on Instagram, so safe to say, I was expecting a lot from this one.
I mean, the title speaks for itself, but this is no thriller. The short snappy chapters make for a super easy read; ready to be eaten up all at once, while also allowing the reader to dip in and out without committing too hard to one session. I took advantage of both of these options, going through the pages slowly for a few days before finishing the second half in one go.
If you are after blood and gore this is not the book for you. Rather this is a straight to the point novel, reflected in both the blunt chapter titles and the dry humour that comes in the narrative of Korede as she faces conflict to keep her sister Ayoola safe, despite her wrong doings.
In this book, Braithwaite provides little in terms of answers, instead alluding to things of the past and focusing on how the sisters move beyond it. The story is about progression and how the sisterly bond helps Korede and Ayoola to break free from outdated traditions of misogyny. They may not take the most conventional methods, sure, but in the grand scheme of things, this is merely a device to showcase the strength of their relationship. It is about acceptance and by the time you finish the book, there are only two words in the title that really matter; “My Sister”.
It’s not to say that we support Ayoola having killed three of her boyfriends and the novel certainly does not paint that in a good light, or exactly justify the means. What it does instead is provide some kind of insight into just how much she means to Korede, even if on the surface she can’t stand her. It even makes you wonder if when Ayoola starts to date Tade, a Doctor who Korede works with (and loves deeply), whether the anger and conflict that Korede really feels comes from her being in love with Tade or in fact her concerns for Ayoola.
It’s a funny old book that ends somewhat abruptly, leaving the reader to wrack their brains about what has actually happened, only to realise that the message is quite simple.
My reading pace may have slowed but I have a funny feeling that it will pick up again what with Coronavirus kicking everything out of whack. In between all the colouring in, playing indoor catch and simply eating all the snacks, I can imagine that a lot of books will get read. The book I’m currently reading is the first of five lent to me by Freya at just the perfect time, thanks girl! Taking on a different tone with more of a classic – Tanizaki’s Some Prefer Nettles. It’s a relatively small book but from what I can tell so far, not one to be read over quickly. I also have another Sally Rooney book on the list as well as an audiobook waiting for me. Happy social distancing to me indeed!