Monday 30 April 2018

The Pigeon

When I borrowed The Pigeon from one of my bookgroup ladies a few months ago I'd never heard of it. Naturally I'd heard of one of Patrick Süskind's other books, indeed his debut, Perfume. It was a sensation in the 80s, and I read it way back then. I remember loving it. But I barely remember anything about it. A little, but not all that much. I don't think that I even knew that Peter Süskind had written any other books.

I did borrow The Pigeon some months ago now, and even though my bookgroup lady has been very gracious about letting me borrow it for so long I wanted to get it read. So I picked it up during the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon this weekend. And I'm so very glad I did, it was simply amazing. Mind blowing really.

The Pigeon is the story of a simple, rather nondescript man, who is really rather unusual. Jonathan Noel is a 50 something security guard working what could be a rather dreary job at a bank in Paris. Everyday is the same routine. Although Jonathan revels in this. He takes pleasure in the "total uneventfulness" of his life. Which is not surprising really, as every significant person is despatched with in the first three pages of the book- his parents to the Nazis, his sister to Canada, and his wife to a "Tunisian fruit merchant from Marseilles". His rather spartan room has become "his beloved".
As a result of all these many acquisitions, the room had of course become smaller still, growing inwardly, as it were, like an oyster encrusted with mother-of-pearl, and in its diverse sophisticated installations resembled more a ship's cabin or a luxurious Pullman compartment than a simple chambre de bonne. But its essential character had been maintained down through those thirty years: it was and would remain Jonathan's island of security in a world of insecurity, his refuge, his beloved - yes, for she received him with a tender embrace each evening when he returned home, she offered warmth and protection, she nourished both body and soul, was always there when he needed her and did not desert him. 
The Pigeon is largely set over a single day in Paris (that's always a good start for me at least). And more particularly on the Left Bank. Jonathan works on Rue de Sèvres, which is where I stayed for six weeks in 2013, so I know the area the book is set very well. Naturally that thrilled Francophile me. Jonathan lives nearby and when he walks rue du Bac, visits Bon Marche (which was my corner shop back in 2013), or walks rue de Vaugirard to the Jardin du Luxembourg (one of my very favourite spots in Paris) I pretty much squealed with delight. I've done all those things, and walked those streets many, many times. I've even eaten my lunch in Square Boucicat where Jonathan eats his lunch. I didn't however watch a homeless man shitting in the street and have existential thoughts about the "essence of human freedom". Next visit to Paris I'll have to visit rue de la Planche, where Jonathan lives. 

The story starts when Jonathan finds a pigeon outside his door one morning on the way to the share bathroom. It is a hot Friday morning in August 1984 and Jonathan is getting up and ready for work. Jonathan was in the habit of listening at his door to ensure that noone else was in the hall, or heaven forbid meeting a fellow resident at the toilet door. That had already happened once, "in the summer of 1959, twenty-five years before". 
He had almost set foot across the threshold, had already raised the foot, his left, his leg was in the act of stepping - when he saw it. It was sitting before his door, not eight inches from the threshold, in the pale reflection of dawn that came through the window. It was crouched there, with red, taloned feet on the oxblood tiles of the hall and in sleek, blue-tray plumage: the pigeon. 
Jonathan's controlled life then spirals out of control. He ponders how he is allowed to kill a person (because of his work in security) but not a pigeon
... a pigeon is the epitome of chaos and anarchy, a pigeon that whizzes around unpredictably, that sets its claws in you, picks at your eyes, a pigeon that never stops soiling and spreading the filth of havoc of bacteria and meningitis virus, that doesn't just stay alone, one pigeon lures other pigeons that leads to sexual intercourse and they breed at a frantic pace, a host of pigeons will lay siege, you won't be able to leave your room ever again, will have to starve, will suffocate in your excrement, will have to throw yourself out of the window and lie there smashed on the pavement...
As Jonathan's life spirals the writing changes. Some pages are completely full of words. No paragraphs, no breaks. And yet this slim little novella (a mere 77 pages) is utterly captivating. I really loved it. It's one of those books that you want to reread straight away, and I think I will reread it this week. Even I can inhale it very quickly. 

I can't remember the style of Perfume after so many years but there are blurbs for it on the back cover of The Pigeon, that compare it to Kafka. "In a manner reminiscent of Kafka in its fearsome triviality and its bleak description of vulnerability." The back cover also says that The Pigeon is on the same theme as Perfume, which they described as obsession and disgust. Although I'm not exactly sure that The Pigeon is about either. 

Patrick Süskind hasn't published anything for over 10 years. He is apparently a recluse. He is German, writes in German, and yet both of the books I've read have been set in Paris. As he doesn't grant interviews I guess I won't find out why. Still I plan to seek out all of his work. I want to reread The Pigeon for a start. I should reread Perfume too. And have a go at Kafka. I think it's time.

Sunday 29 April 2018

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon The Fourth

I really thought that this was my third Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, but it turns out it's my fourth!

We have a 10pm start time in April in Australia, so it's always a bit of a tricky slow start. I made a tactical error with my starting selection I think. I'm so far behind on my #LesMisReadalong and so sad about that that I picked up Les Mis to start. I finished V2B3 in the evening/early hours of the morning, but not before I napped. I should have picked something quicker- Note to Self for November! Yes I'll still be reading Les Mis then, as it's a year long read along.

So some time in the early hours I picked up My Brother's Husband. My first ever Manga I think.  And I got 64 pages in before I conked out at 0230.

So now it's just after 0900, I've been up for half an hour, and about to launch into reading for the day. Which is when I always get the majority of my #readathon reading done. 

1 nap

6 hours sleep
38 pages of Les Mis
64 pages of My Brother's Husband

1300 Hour 15 - entering peak reading time for the Aussies

1 book finished, about to start the second I will finish

1 nap, but touch and go on #2
6 hours sleep
25 pages of The Dress
54 pages of Les Mis
352 pages of My Brother's Husband

1600 Hour 18

2 books finished

2 naps finished
6 hours sleep
19 pages of The Pigeon
25 pages of The Dress
54 pages of Les Mis
306 pages of Long Way Down
352 pages of My Brother's Husband

2000 and into the final two hours

3 books finished 
3 naps finished
6 hours sleep
25 pages of The Dress
54 pages of Les Mis
77 pages of The Pigeon
306 pages of Long Way Down
352 pages of My Brother's Husband

My mind was seriously blown by The Pigeon. Now I don't know what to do with myself. I do want a sprint to the finish, but I'm not sure what I can possibly read. I think I will go with a bit of fashion non-fiction with The Dress, and then maybe try another graphic novel. 

2200 My final tally

3 books finished
4 naps finished
6 hours sleep
40 pages of The Dress
54 pages of Les Mis
77 pages of The Pigeon
96 pages of Persepolis
306 pages of Long Way Down
352 pages of My Brother's Husband

For a total of 925 pages! My biggest ever tally- reading graphic novels and verse novels sure helps get those numbers up. Next time I'll have to try and crack 1000....

Saturday 28 April 2018

The Happy Life

I've been meaning to read this issue of Quarterly Essay since it came out (in 2011, oops), so when I found the audiobook at my library it seemed a perfect opportunity. I'm very glad that I did. Indeed, I'm always glad when I find the time to pick up a Quarterly Essay, they're always very worthwhile reading, or listening.

The Happy Life was quite different to what I was expecting. Much more philosophical and considered, which if I'd thought about it more I should have expected really. David Malouf starts out with reminding us that it is only relatively recently that we can even consider notions of happiness, and that life for humans for the majority of our history, has not been a happy one.
But for the vast majority of men and women who have shared our planet in the long course of human history, these can have been no more than moments in a life that was unremittingly harsh. 
And moreover, how can we not be happy when "the chief sources of human unhappiness, of misery and wretchedness, have largely been removed from our lives- large-scale social injustice, famine, plague and other disease, the near-certainty of an early death". At least for those of us in the first world these problems really do not bother our day to day lives. 
The truth is that though we are all alive on the planet in the same moment, we are not all living in the same century. 
In a relatively brief time span we have gone from a life spent merely surviving to one where "something called happiness is a condition that we all aspire to, and which, whatever our place in society, we see it as our right to enjoy". I had never considered that a document written in Philadelphia in 1776 would have any bearing whatsoever on whether I am happy in my daily life. But Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence wrote that all men are created equal, "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain (inherent) unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". David Malouf calls these words "perhaps the most influential of the coming century". Can they really be having an effect more than 200 years later and half a world away?

David Malouf spends quite a bit of time making the distinction between the Good Life and the Happy Life. He argues that we need to feel in control of our circumstances and that as long as our problems are in human dimensions, then we can be happy within limits- he uses the example of Shukhov, an inmate serving out a 10 year sentence, 3653 days (including leap years), in the Soviet Gulags in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I agree that concentrating on problems of human dimensions can reduce our stress, and so increase our happiness. It's basically why I stopped watching TV news 2 years ago after the murder of a French priest tipped me over the edge. We can't take on all the problems of the world. I certainly can't. And it's not just about the major global problems- of climate change, the fate of the polar bears, of poverty, disease and famine in the developing world, of terrorism and idiots being elected President of major nations.  I don't want to know about every person killed by a drunk driver all over the world, I don't want to know about every child dying in tragic circumstances, every family tragedy. I can't grieve every terrible incident around the world. It is truly overwhelming. 
What most alarms us in our contemporary world, what unsettles and scares us, is the extent to which the forces that shop our lives are no longer personal- they know nothing of us; and to the extent that we know nothing of them- cannot put a face to them, cannot find in them anything we recognise as human- we cannot deal with them. We feel like small, powerless creatures in the coils of an invisible monster, vast but insusbstantial, that cannot be grasped or wrestled with. 
But David Malouf entirely ignores many very large sources of human interactions that are all on a very personal scale. The extraordinary pain that can occur from human interactions, especially from those closest to us. The pains of abusive relationships, of domestic violence, of infidelity, of marriage breakdown, or of family tragedy, personal hardship or mental illness. These are major influencers of our internal state of wellbeing and happiness. 

The Happy Life is beautifully written, as you would expect from David Malouf. He made a very interesting aside about writing by hand. 
(I happen to have set that sentence down in the old, slow way by hand. If I had used a computer, I might have got it down in a third, a quarter of the time. But like a good many writers, even this far into the twenty-first century, I find that the pace at which I work in longhand- at which my arm, my hand moves in the act of writing- has what is for a "natural" relationship to the speed at which my mind works and I do not want to let go of a relationship that seems to be peculiarly mine. Writing by hand slows the thought process, allowing thinking to think again, mid-thought, and leaving open the possibility of second thoughts. It has an effect too on syntax, on the way a sentence gets shaped.)
Which is something I'd never thought about but it's interesting to do so. Some years ago my workplace changed from handwritten documentation to an electronic system. While it has some advantages, there are also definite disadvantages. I hadn't particularly thought of it in the context of creativity though, or how the method of notation in fact effects the thoughts being recorded. Another less successful digression was rather too long, and on the subject of Peter Paul Rubens intimate portrait of his young wife. Het Pelsken (Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap), now bizarrely available as a doona cover and range of other products. While I did enjoy the art history aspects of this section, I really wasn't quite sure how it advanced his argument- or indeed what that argument was a lot of the time.

The Happy Life gave me much food for thought, but no particularly practical suggestions as to how to achieve a happy life (although I do think I'm working that out on my own). And it is helpful to recognise the Good Life that we lead. 

Friday 20 April 2018


I just inhaled this incredible six episode podcast, recommended repeatedly by Leigh and Annabel on several episodes of the mighty Chat 10, Looks 3.  As I listened I was mystified that I'd never heard about the disappearance and murder of these three children.

Now that I've listened to Bowraville: OMG I can't believe that I've never heard of this case before. Three (Aboriginal) children were murdered on the same street in Northern NSW over five months in 1990-1991. Three (white) children disappeared in Adelaide in 1966 and I know all about it, and have heard about it for decades. This one? Nothing. Never heard of it before. Is it really because these three children were Aboriginal? I really hope that it isn't, but fear that it is.

The three Bowraville children were 16 year old Colleen Walker, 4 year old Evelyn Greenup and 16 year old Clinton Speedy-Duroux. The bodies of only two of them, Evelyn and Clinton, have been found. Although Colleen's clothing was found weighted down in the nearby Nambucca River.

Extraordinary claims are made during the podcast. That the police refused to record Colleen and Evelyn as missing initially, stating that they had gone walkabout! Sure 16 year olds do run away, but a four year old!

One man, Jay Hart, was tried, separately, for the murders of Evelyn and Clinton. He was acquitted both times. I presume that there has been no trial into Colleen's death because her body has still never been found. Incredibly at the end of the podcast, Jay Hart rings the reporter Dan Box. They have a 45 minute conversation (which is available in full after the final episode).

Look away now if you want to listen to the podcast (and I recommend that you do) and don't want to hear my thoughts.

During Bowraville I thought Dan Box did a great job of presenting a fairly even view of events, and yet it was inevitable I guess that you would think that Jay Hart must be guilty. While the evidence is all circumstantial really, noone else was even presented as a suspect. The police have tried him separately, i.e. twice, for the murder of two of these children. They must think he's guilty. There is currently consideration in the NSW Court of Appeal as to whether there should be a retrial. Apparently a decision is expected soon.

Bowraville was produced by The Australian in May 2016.

It seems I did miss quite a bit of media about the murders over the years.

A 2006 Australian Story Truth Be Told (video no longer available sadly, but a transcript available)

A 2010 article The Mission - Malcolm Knox (The Monthly)

Justice Just Us Bowraville Special Forum

Dan Box is currently writing a book about the Bowraville murders! YAY. Although I was hoping to get through a podcast without growing the TBR. Oh well. 

Thursday 12 April 2018

Before I Let You Go

Before I Let You Go is quite a departure from my usual reading tastes. I'd never heard of Kelly Rimmer before I saw the publicity for this book, despite the fact that we live in the same, small Australian town. There are a few reasons for this, as I said it's not a book that I'd usually pick up, and Kelly has had a really interesting path in publishing. She has written four books previously, but these have only been available digitally (at least in Australia, and I think worldwide). But she has achieved extraordinary success along the way. She has sold more than 600,000 digital books, and been translated into 20 languages! And now she is being sold in print for the first time. Obviously her star is on the rise which is fabulous news. I was lucky to be able to attend a local launch, meet Kelly, and get a signed copy. 

Before I Let You Go is the story of two sisters, Lexie and Annie, told in alternating first person voices. The sisters had a difficult upbringing after their father died and their mother remarries. The older girl, Lexie, leaves as soon as she can at 16 and goes on to become a doctor. Annie grows up to a very different life, she is to become an intravenous drug user. Then she becomes pregnant, which is the start of the story. These circumstances would be difficult enough anywhere, but Before I Let You Go is set in Alabama where a law regarding Chemical Endangerment of a Child was enacted in 2006. The law was originally intended to keep children out of meth labs, a completely reasonable aim, however the scope was broadened to include pregnant women using drugs, and babies who test positive to illegal drugs, which is not reasonable, not sensible and in fact dangerous.

I enjoyed the alternating first person voices. This was never confusing as the chapters were clearly named, and different fonts are used for each sister. Annie's sections were written in a journal format style in italics as opposed to Lexie's more conventional narrative. For all of her bad choices, Annie was a warmer, more likeable character, while I found Lexie more difficult, full of anxiety, hand wringing, and burdened by the weight of her own expectations. 
You love like that only once in a lifetime - you can love from a place of innocence only once. 
Both Lexie and her fiancé Sam are doctors, and I had quibbles with some of their characterisations at times. There were also some medical errors which grated, but that is probably something that most readers wouldn't necessarily notice- a "BP monitor" on a forefinger, and two doctors ignoring a fever in a neonate. Fevers in babies less than three months are a big deal, and not just ascribed to being a "first cold".

However, I was really disappointed to find that my Australian copy which proudly proclaims BEST SELLING AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR on the front cover was indeed full of Americanisms. There was no attempt whatsoever to modify the language for Australian publication- and every time I read Mom, acetaminophen or diaper my blood pressure rose. This is a particular hobby horse of mine, I realise that, and yes, I know that this is an American story, but it was printed for an Australian audience, it should be published for us. 

My library now has print copies of all four of her previous books (and they are being heavily borrowed which is great to see). All of those prior books are set in Australia, I will certainly be interested to take a look at one of them.

Wednesday 11 April 2018

Chat 10 Looks 3

I came rather late to worship at the Chat 10 Looks 3 altar- but boy am I there now! I'd heard about it a little bit somehow over time but really leapt into it late last year when it was announced that a live show would be near me in May. So I immediately bought tickets. And then I looked out for the podcast- not really understanding what podcasts where at that stage but I wanted some background so I could really enjoy the live show.

Chat 10 started in late 2014 as a somewhat erratically timed podcast, it's basically just friends Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb chatting about things they've been doing. They are both keen readers and consumers of modern entertainments- movies, Netflix shows and other podcasts. They also love to cook (and eat) and discuss what they've been making for dinner, or for pudding. Which I realise sounds a bit unprepossessing, but it's fantastic. It's like having a couple of intelligent, chatty friends round for dinner and you can't get a word in. 

I've now gone back and listened to every single episode. And loved every minute of it. Well occasionally they did delve into American politics a bit much. Every episode is chock full of wondrous chat, it's intelligent and humorous. I laughed out loud more than once whilst out walking the dogs. 

My major problem with becoming a Chatter is that it makes me want to read, watch or listen to (and of course eat) everything they talk about. And I just don't have the time for it all. The website is just loaded with links. There's a Facebook group that can chew up a lot of time too, but it's an amazing community, and incredible things can happen there. 

So far I have also listened to Alone: A Love Story, a Canadian podcast by journalist Michelle Parise that documents her marriage and the breakdown of her marriage. It's so honest, brutally raw and powerful especially for those who have recently been in a similar place.

I've started watching Chef's Table on Netflix, and I am a few episodes into Series One of The Crown. I've bought Season 1 of VEEP, but am yet to load the disc into the player.

Podcasts are great to listen to whilst out walking the dogs, driving the car, or lounging about at home.
They're certainly having a moment now. I find it rather amusing that what is essentially portable radio programming is the big new thing in the modern world, when we have so much more amazing technology and visual mediums at our beck and call. But they're so very beguiling, and there seems to be podcasts for every taste, and on every subject. True crime seems to be a major theme though. Serial (2014) probably lead to the rise of the podcast. I still haven't listened to it. But now that I'm up to date with Chat 10 I can now cast around and find more. Leigh and Annabel have of course given me lots of great ideas to go on with.

I may be likely to listen to these sooner rather than later:
Dirty John
The Dollop

Or there's plenty of great podcast lists out there.

Wired UK List of Best Podcasts

Esquire's 20 Best Podcasts 2017

Time's The 50 Best Podcasts to Listen to Right Now

The 101Best Podcasts for 2018

And once you conquer the world of English podcasts there are lots available in French.

10 Awesome French Podcasts for French Learners

15 Advanced French Podcasts You'll Absolutely Love

SBS French

Leigh and Annabel discuss their childhood reading
at the Wheeler Centre

Friday 6 April 2018

Les Misérables The Ship Orion/Le Vaisseau Orion V2/B2

The Ship Orion is only a short book, a mere three chapters, but it marked quite a special event- we are now a quarter of the way through the #LesMisReadalong. It's gone quite quickly really in some ways. It's been a great journey, and I'm so glad to be part of such a wonderful online community. 

The Ship Orion comes as quite a break after the history lesson of Waterloo. We delve straight back into the story in a rather dramatic fashion.

Jean Valjean had been recaptured. 

And Victor Hugo uses some different technique with the inclusion of two newspaper reports regarding the scandal of a small town mayor actually being an ex-convict in breach of parole. He is known to have withdrawn a large sum of money from his bank. 

Suddenly near Montfermeil we have a man, Boulatruelle, another ex-convict, a road-mender and drunkard who leaves his work to go and dig up the forest scaring old ladies. Thenadier sets out to find out what he is up to. 'Let's put him to the wine test,'...

They did their utmost to get the old road-mender drunk. Boulatruelle drank an enormous amount and said very little. He combined with admirable skill and in masterly proportion a guzzler's thirst with the discretion of a judge. 
We soon have another digression into war, much shorter than that of Waterloo. I presume that Hugo's contemporary readers would have known of the war of 1823- I had to resort to the Notes and to Google. 
In 1823 France intervened on the side of the royalists in the Spanish Civil War (1820-3), with the result that liberal gains were reversed and Ferdinand VII was restored to the throne as absolute monarch. 
Naturally Victor Hugo has some opinions on this. 
The war of 1823, an outrage against the brave Spanish people, was at the same time, therefore, an outrage against the French Revolution. 
And there are more magnificent quotes. 
An army is a strangely contrived masterpiece by which force results from an enormous amount of powerlessness. This is the explanation of war, waged by humanity against humanity despite humanity. 
And the gorgeous prose I've come to expect. 
A ship of the line combines the heaviest and lightest of components because it operates at one and the same time with the three forms of matter, solid, liquid and gas, and must contend with all three. It has eleven iron claws to grab the granite sea-bed, and to catch the wind in the clouds it has more wings and feelers than any flying insect. Its breath is expelled from its one hundred and twenty cannons as from enormous bugles, and proudly answers thunder. The ocean tries to lead it astray in the frightening sameness of its waves, but the vessel has a soul, its compass, that guides it and always indicates north. On dark nights its lanterns act as substitutes for the stars. So against the wind, it has rope and canvas; against water, timber; against rock, iron, brass and lead; against darkness, light; against immensity, a needle. 
Even while describing the Mediterranean fleet Victor Hugo's social conscience is never far away. He tallies up the wasted cannonballs used by the military every day. Two hundred years later we are still having essentially the same discussions on military spending. 
It has been calculated that in salvoes, royal and military honours, exchanges of courtesy volleys, ceremonial signals, harbour and citadel formalities, sunrise and sunset salutes every day by all forts and all ships of war, port openings and closings et cetera, the civilised world was discharging around the globe every twenty-four hours one hundred and fifty thousand unnecessary cannon shots. At six francs per cannon shot, that comes to nine hundred thousand francs a day, three hundred million a year, that go up in smoke. This is just one small detail. Meanwhile the poor are dying of hunger. 
At the end of this book Jean Valjean performs another heroic rescue and saves the life of sailor caught in the rigging of the ship. 
At a nod from the officer, with one blow of a hammer he had broken the chain riveted to the shackle round his ankle, then grabbed a rope, and leapt up into the shrouds. No one noticed at the time how easily that chain was broken. It was only later that people remembered. 
Clearly Jean Valjean had been biding his time, waiting for his chance, and we can now reflect on the chapter title- The Ankle-Chain Must Have Been Worked on Previously, to Break at a Single Hammer Blow.

After his daring rescue in the rigging of the ship Jean Val Jean "seemed to falter and teeter" and falls into the sea. 
He had vanished into the sea without causing a ripple, as though he had fallen into a vat of oil. They searched, they dived. It was to no avail. The search continued until nightfall. They did not even find the body. 

All quotes are from the 2013 Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, translated by Christine Donougher. 

Thursday 5 April 2018

Verse Novels

 It was way back in 2014 that Steven Herrick showed me how great verse novels could be. I've really come to love them since, which I don't think could surprise anyone more than me. Because I haven't learnt to like poetry yet. But many of these verse novels would count as some of my favourite books of the past four years or so, or ever. .

I thought I would group together the verse novels I want to read, and those that I have read. A lot of these books are middle grade or YA, but I've started to read some adult verse novels too- although I think that there aren't as many of these about- or perhaps I just haven't found them yet.

And in a random act of coincidence that almost looks like planning April is National Poetry Month (in the US at least).

After the Kiss - Terra Elan McVoy

Aurora Leigh - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson (see my review)

Bruiser - Neal Shusterman

Bully on the Bus - Kathryn Apel (see my review)

By The River - Steven Herrick (see my review)

Cinnamon Rain - Emma Cameron (see my review)

Crank - Ellen Hopkins

Enchanted Air - Margarita Engle

Freakboy - Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Glimpse - Carol Lynch Williams

Here is the Beehive - Sarah Crossan

Home of the Brave - Katherine Applegate

I Heart You, You Haunt Me - Lisa Schroeder

Inside Out & Back Again - Thanhha Lai (see my review)

Long Way Down - Jason Reynolds 

Love That Dog - Sharon Creech

May B - Caroline Starr Rose

Moonrise - Sarah Crossan (see my review)

October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard - Leslea Newman

One - Sarah Crossan (see my review)

One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies - Sonya Sones

Out of the Dust - Karen Hesse

Paper Hearts - Meg Wiviott

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend - Seven Herrick (see my review)

Red Butterfly - A.L. Somnichsen

Sister Heart - Sally Morgan (see my review)

Somewhere Among - Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsy

The Black Flamingo - Dean Atta

The Crossover - Kwame Alexander

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

The Little Wave - Pip Harry

The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy - Marie Jaskulka

The Monkey's Mask - Dorothy Porter

The Poet X - Elizabeth Acevedo

The Realm of Possibility - David Levithan

The Red Pencil - Andrea Davis Pinkney

The Simple Gift - Steven Herrick (see my review)

The Sugar Mile - Glyn Maxwell

The Watch that Ends the Night - Voices From the Titanic - Allan Wolf

The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling - Lucy Frank

Street Love - Walter Dean Myers

We Come Apart - Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (see my review)

I will add to this list as I come across new books, or lists of verse novels. I do like to keep track of verse novels.

12 YA Books in Verse You Need to Read

9 Books in Verse You Need to Read ASAP

Michael Symmons Roberts Top 10 Verse Novels

And for when I run out of these books there are 100 Must-Read YA Books Written in Verse!

Sarah Tregay has created the motherlode of all verse novel lists split into age!

I need to put these lists down- I just bought 6 verse novels over at Bookdepository! Oops.

Monday 2 April 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Totally Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is having a bit of a moment, as well she should. Ever since the release mid last year Eleanor has been everywhere. There's been so much buzz, everyone is reading it, she's already won some prizes (big ones like the Costa First Novel Award) and been nominated for even more (big ones like The Womens Prize). Eleanor is even spear heading a new genre, Up Lit, "novels of kindness and compassion".

One detail that I wasn't aware of before I started reading is that Gail Honeyman is Scottish and Eleanor Oliphant lives in Glasgow. Eleanor is 29, and she lives what most of us would consider a sad and lonely life. She lives alone, she is an accounts receivable clerk at a mid-size graphic design firm, and she lives a regimented, regulated life.
From Monday to Friday, I come in at 8.30. I take an hour for lunch. I used to bring in my own sandwiches, but the food at home always went off before I could use it up, so now I get something from the high street. I always finish with a trip to Marks and Spencer on a Friday, which rounds off the week nicely. I sit in the staffroom with my sandwich and I read the newspaper from cover to cover, and then I do the crosswords. I take the Daily Telegraph, not because I like it particularly, but because it has the best cryptic crossword. I don't talk to anyone- by the time I've bought my Meal Deal, read the paper and finished both crosswords, the hour is almost up. I go back to my desk and work till 5.30. The bus home takes half an hour. 
She is fully aware that she is separate.
It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination. 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. 
Yet Eleanor appears to have accepted her difference, accepted her solitary life.
I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I'm a sole survivor- I'm Eleanor Oliphant. I don't need anyone else- there's no hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That is what I've always told myself, at any rate. 
Although the 2 bottles of vodka each weekend would argue against this happiness with her life. One day things change as Eleanor sees a man collapse on the street and she assists him with a colleague, Raymond from IT.

I like books in a Quirky first person voice, and Eleanor certainly has that. Perhaps a bit much at times though. Eleanor is socially awkward, she has stilted speech, and a literal understanding of the world so of course there are a number of fish-out-of-water scenarios.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a meditation on loneliness, on friendship, on social mores.
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. 
I quite enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Totally Fine, but didn't love it as much as almost everyone else seems to have. Sometimes Eleanor's naiveté and quirkiness seemed forced to me, she's intelligent, well read and yet so oblivious to so many things. Still it a fascinating debut novel from Gail Honeyman, and I'll certainly read her next book whenever that comes. 
The character grew, Honeyman explains, out of a newspaper article she read years earlier about the problem of loneliness. “At the time it was something that wasn’t discussed much and when it was, it was usually in the context of older people who are widowed or whose families have moved away.”
Reese Witherspoon has apparently bought the film rights, and I do think that Eleanor will make a great film handled right, although I really hope that her Scottish context is preserved, but fear that it won't and it'll ruin the movie like they did with The Girl on the Train.