Category: Review

Review of Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’

by Guest Reviewer, and author of ‘Helios Sphere‘, Eleanor Duvivier

It has been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to write down my thoughts about a book.

Eleanor and I (also called Eleanor) connected.  We went on an adventure together through the ink and the turn of the page.  I should have known, it’s not often you come across a heroine called Eleanor.  Eleanor is not a conventional heroine and at times it’s hard to see her as a heroine at all.  In fact, at first I felt sure that she would be revealed as a psychopath.  This balance on the line of character profiles is truly intriguing.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about a woman who thinks she is fine and is quite happy plodding along in that bubble until events start happening at her which makes her realise that she really isn’t fine at all.  For those, like me, with mental health issues that would worry about reading due to the last bit please don’t worry.  The author is empathetic and it isn’t used as a plot twist and moved on without proper appreciation and treatment.  Eleanor’s moving on is given such care and attention that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Gail Honeyman, author (image from Goodreads)

Despite the book being about Eleanor there is a network of solid characters in this novel.  Eleanor learns to converse with people, make friends and care for others as well as herself.  It is a story about how Eleanor loves herself to love others.  This in itself is unconventional. It isn’t necessarily a story about Eleanor falling in love with a specific person although one could be fooled to think that at first.  When you struggle you know the first step is self-love and acceptance.  We can’t give from an empty cup after all.

What resonated with me was that Eleanor has scars on the same side of her face as I do mine due to a fire.  I shan’t say why Eleanor’s fire started.  When I was in primary school camping with Mum we got caught up in a tent fire and the end result was we were hospitalised with scars that we would share for life.  My flowery dress got caught upon the tent pole and my Mum had to tear melting tent apart with her hand to free me. 

For years I was bullied for surviving and called all manner of things for having scars.  Early on the scars were rigid and pink like mountains across my dark skin, in time they have paled.  It is small reactions that Eleanor does: showing the best side of her face, fearing the hairdresser, fearing the wielder of the makeup brush, not feeling perfect and being afraid of perfection.  These truly resonate with me.  There is a way that you act when you have scars that you hope no one notices.

It was the first book in a long time that I have laughed, cried, contemplated my own life, stayed up late to finish, oo’d, ahh’d and genuinely annoyed the other people around me about whilst reading.  I will read it again once I have time, just so that I can digest it all.

£20 note!

Since I started post-Uni summer I’ve been catching up with my reading list.  I’ve got books from three Christmases ago that I need to get round to.  This treat was the first on the list and in it I found a twenty pound note from my Mum – thanks Mum!  That’s what I get for taking so long to get round to a book, eh?  A little surprise in the pages. 

When you’ve been reading extracts of books and Uni reading for what feels like forever getting stuck into a book for pleasure was a real gift.  It was difficult to avoid spoilers during my Creative Writing MA as everyone was starting threads about it and was reading it that winter.  I can see why they were so obsessed.  This book was a gift in itself, had a gift in it, and was given as a gift. 

#eleanorduvivier, #heliossphere, #eleanoroliphant, #scottmartinproductions, #lesleyatherton, #review, #bookreview

Review of Short Stories – Snapshots of Life, Morality and the Complex Human Landscape of Emotion

by Guest Blogger, Rebecca Wilson

Throughout my life in education so far, I have received the same message – that ‘high quality’ literature lies exclusively within the academically compiled lists of ‘classics’ which frequently feature lengthy pagination and fairly distant publication dates.

The majority of these ‘classics’ consist of reams and reams of plot, description and deeper meaning. However, the sheer length of many of these ‘classics’ has (arguably) rather ironically led some of them to fall into the trap many writers face – maintaining balance.

Although I am by no means advocating that all longer stories lack balance, as you lengthen a story, the danger of this pitfall increases, and the deeper meanings in works can sometimes be swamped by excessive description or other forms of irrelevant minor detail.

This is where short stories have a unique advantage over longer stories. This trap is often much easier to avoid.

So why do short stories not have the same claim to the literary spotlight?

Don’t be deceived by their length, these works can offer a lot more than you may initially think…

Punchy, Powerful Messages…
With Clarity!

When reading short stories, readers are arguably less inclined to rake through dozens of pages before uncovering any implicit messages. The power of these messages is thus less likely to be sacrificed or difficult to extract, as is the case with some of history’s most hailed literary classics. A key example of this in my opinion would be Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although a classic story, and one which I adore, the important messages it carries such as those of the value of friendship, loyalty and teamwork are often lost amongst the endless description of the vast landscape and history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Although I can admire Tolkien’s expansive imagination, in his ability to build a world in such minute detail, the level of this detail included in the story can sometimes make reading the trilogy an arduous and lengthy task, rather than a singular source of enjoyable fantasy escapism.

Quality not Quantity
(of Pages and Profit!)

It’s no hidden secret that many classic novels, such as Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles often owe their length to the practice of serialisation and being ‘paid by the letter’. Here, the creativity vs commerce debate begins to flare up again, although it is often difficult to judge whether novels entirely owe their length to this cause or not. The endless sub plots and lengthy descriptions evident in classics such as DickensGreat Expectations can most certainly frame many classics as guilty of this in many respects, whereas shorter stories can often pack unique punches some longer stories can find, owing to their length, much harder to achieve.

Travelling and mental exhaustion

We’ve all experienced this. We’ve all been on a holiday, or a long journey, or simply sat at home ‘relaxing’, picked up a book and after a certain amount of time been more focused on getting to a numerical target rather than reading the text itself. Just picking up a book that has 400+ pages can be a bit daunting, with your brain telling you “this is going to take forever”, and thus, in this mindset, it does. And then you procrastinate from reading it, and alas, five months later, you’re only 200 pages into reading Vanity Fair (and yes, I am speaking from personal experience here). The book is abandoned, you grumble something about time wasting, and move on to a different book (not a classic this time, seeing as you’re holding a grudge for a bit). This is why shorter stories are simply perfect for the weary traveller who just wants something interesting to dip into for a short while, and why short stories can often maintain reader interest for a longer amount of time.

Skill of the Writer in World and Character Building – in Such a Short Space of Time!

This is a skill that is very difficult to master. Longer stories enable writers to gradually build up characters and thus have the safety net of future events in the story to fall back on should the development of a certain aspect be sparse in one section of the novel. Short story writers do not have this safety net, and so their ability to craft worlds and characters in such short spaces of time, that are interesting and sufficiently developed to keep readers engaged should be celebrated as a true indication of artistic talent.

Exploration of Ideas Not Suitable for Longer Work

Some ideas that are captured in short stories, such as singular emotions or experiences, can be very high intensity or simply not suitable to be explored in a feature length novel. To shorten a story can often be an efficient way of ensuring intensity remains high, concentration is less likely to fade and allows unique ideas to be explored in isolation, rather than being mentioned briefly amongst a tangled web of plot, description and characterisation. To cite an example, in Lesley Atherton’s collection of short stories Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep Vol.1, there is a fascinating short story titled ‘Conflict’. This is my favourite of the collection, because it explores one singular emotion in such great depth, and just makes you, well, think!

And that’s simply to name a few unique benefits reading shorter stories can offer you. So why not read some yourself and see these ideas in action? Lesley Atherton’s series of short stories titled Can’t Sleep Won’t Sleep currently has five volumes for you to delve into, and the series most certainly embodies the ideas listed above surrounding the unfairly marginalised value short stories possess within an ever-expanding modern literary landscape.

#lesleyfridayreads, #can’tsleepwon’tsleep, #scottmartinproductions, #rebeccawilson, #lesleyatherton, #shortstory, #shortstories

Read This Book: NO MATTER WHAT! ***** FIVE STARS

Read this book ‘No Matter What‘ by Lesley Atherton

Review by Guest Blogger, Lauren O’Neill

No Matter What‘ is a short tale told from the point of view of Jayne Smith, a ghost writer who loves her job. She enjoyed the challenge of trying to write a book, autobiography or memoir in a way that it would seem her clients had written the books themselves. That is, until a certain supermodel named Hawk was sent her way, bringing not only stress and trouble along with him but also a past that Jayne had long since left behind.

Image: Pngtree

Lesley Atherton does a really good job of drawing you in and keeping you there and interested until the very end. Usually for me, short stories are just something to read to pass the time but with ‘No Matter What‘, I found myself enthralled with every word.

Even for a short story, each chapter flowed easily from one to another, I never found it difficult to get to the next page, never got stuck on a paragraph and never struggled to find the motivation to continue.

Jayne Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a woman who doesn’t find the need to impress or be a different person just to appease her peers and clients. Throughout ‘No Matter What’, I noticed how I didn’t agree with everything she believed but I still wanted her to come out victorious, be it ignoring the “supermodel version of Christopher Ecclestone” that was Hawk or being able to one day get the recognition she truly deserved for her hard work.

Without giving too much away, I saw myself mentally making note of every word she wrote, putting it away for later. This may just be a short fiction story but within it, you’ll find many things you could put to use in your life. As I started reading, I had somewhat of an idea in my head on what ‘No Matter What‘ was going to be about. Boy was I wrong!

For a 64 page story, there were so many twists and turns that kept me guessing and I have to admit, I never would have predicted what was going to happen and I think that’s quite a feat.

Illustration – quick sketch by a young Morrigan Atherton-Forshaw

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘No Matter What’: the story was interesting, gripping and even quite helpful in some places. It kept me intrigued and excited to keep on reading to find out what happened to Jayne and if Hawk had caused any more trouble for the poor woman.

I would definitely recommend ‘No Matter What‘ to you if you enjoy a quick little fix of humour, excitement, mysterious supermodels and a ghost writer with more to her than she lets on, if you enjoy all that, then this is the story for you.

5/5 stars

#lesleyfridayreads, #lesleyatherton, #scottmartinproductions, #laurenoneill, #nomatterwhat, #shortnovel

Review of Bolton: The Positives, by Lesley Atherton

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.

Second, some goods.

  • Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about, but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool, nonchalance… The joys of being young.
  • We park in the multi storey where weekend parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor.  It’s never happened before.   
  • Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink. I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives us each a toasted teacake on the house.
  • We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
  • We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
  • A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. †††† ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
  • We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels like Christmas.
  • We take a trip round the museum and gallery and discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get home.
  • The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of Bolton: The Negatives, by Lesley Atherton

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.

  • The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times, but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with pigeon guano.
  • Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and things not nice.
  • A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy, navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench and watches with open mouth.
  • Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate block.
  • In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
  • A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
  • Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
  • Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ by Richard Bach

It’s June 23rd 2019, and I want to say a massive happy 83rd birthday to Richard Bach, author of 70s classic, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’.

Back in the 80s, I discovered this mind-blowing book in the eclectic library of two aging peace campaigners. I read it in a single sitting, then immediately began again. It delivers the clearest of messages:

It isn’t only acceptable to be different – difference is desirable.

Society inevitably values conformity when really it should be seeking uniqueness, free-thinking and transcendence.

Of course, stability, regularity and rules are important. Vital, even.

But there is always space for those who think outside these limits, as ‘Jonathan’ does.

Plot-wise, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ focuses on a radical young seagull who has ambitions to live differently to his fellow gulls. They exist only to eat, but Jonathan spends his days in more noble pursuits – perfecting experimental flying techniques. Undaunted by failure, even being ostracised by his fellow gulls doesn’t make him give up.

Like Jonathan, achieving my own ambitions hasn’t always been easy, but this book has given me the strength to carry on more times than I care to remember.

And it’s because of this that I recommend EVERY writer read this book, and EVERY artist. In fact, EVERY creator of EVERY kind.

But this isn’t only a book for creators, it’s a book for any free-thinker, and for everyone who has experienced isolation, disassociation or social exclusion – you too have much in common with this short novel’s titular character, and will have much to gain from Richard Bach’s writing.

So, Richard, have a wonderful birthday. Mine is one small voice among many, but I’m grateful to you for making me realise it’s OK to stand out, to leave behind the familiar, and to work towards achieving your dream, no matter what.

#lesleyfridayreads #childrensbooks #richardbach #jonathanlivingstonseagull #bookreview

Lesley Atherton’s Review of ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ by James Lee Burke

The protagonist of James Lee Burke’s ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ is a man called Dave Robicheaux. He sounds a good guy who is trying to put a ‘life of violence and crime behind him, leaving homicide to run a boat-rental business in Louisiana’s bayou country.’

So, that’s all well and good. Potentially interesting, even.

Within the first few pages we read of Dave who is out fishing with his wife, Annie, and how they observe a small plane crashing into the sea. It isn’t long before Dave dives to the wreckage and finds four bodies and a little girl, barely alive.

At this point I was still thinking I might enjoy the book. After all, the first few pages set a colourful scene of bayou fishing and Louisiana life, but things quickly went downhill. The largest part of this novel was truly awful. Of the 350 pages in this edition, I found only 25 or so in any way compelling…

Why?

Problem #1 – Sex

The film of the book was described as an ‘erotic thriller’ and it is obvious within a few pages of beginning the book that that the reader would be subjected to more than the average number of sex scenes.  To be fair, those scenes aren’t badly written, but there are far too many. Also, they are relatively tasteful, but not at all erotic!

Problem #2 – So Dated

Though the book was written in the 1980s, the style and language of the writing were far more reminiscent of the early 20th century, say the period between the 30s to 50s. I wish I could say that I enjoyed the dated feel as generally I do love early 20th century work, but it was irritating. Almost offensive.

Problem #3 – The Race Issue & Lazy Writing

I don’t think I’ve read another book where the writer thinks it is adequate to simply describe person after person as ‘Negro’ – as if that is the only character point of any relevance. I would definitely have preferred to hear how white sweat drops dropped onto a black man’s skin while he did something or said something, rather than hearing yet another simple telling that there was a ‘Negro man’ over there. Within two chapters I was getting VERY annoyed. Within four, I was bored. And I’m a person who NEVER gets bored.†

Problem #4 – Cliched Seediness

Most of the book is about revenge, low-life people, drinking, drugs, crime, murder, whoring and eating. Sigh.

Problem #5 – Pointlessly Complex Yet Far Too Simplistic

The book begins with a crashed plane, but the plot (such as it is) soon deviates from this. It should have been the focal issue, yet instead served merely as an introduction, and as a way of bringing a little girl Alafair (who was largely irrelevant to the story) into the life of Dave.  Instead we get plots and sub-plots, wonderings, erratic action and pointless crimes. None of these seem to drive the story forward, instead just confuse the reader. Despite the plot’s meanderings, the writing style was far too simplistic and regularly incorporated a ‘the sky was blue’ feel which was deeply unsatisfying to the reader.

In Summary

‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ – I’m not even sure I understand where it got its name. Neither writing nor story were heavenly and my attention was at no point held captive.

I was utterly gobsmacked to discover it had been regarded so highly that it was made into a film. One word comes most readily to mind – ‘Why?’

In short, ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ was dated, dull and not at all deep. The front cover made a tasty snack for my guinea pig, and that’s the best I can say about the book and its contents.

#lesleyfridayreads