Costa Book Award winner

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Published May 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

What did I think?:

If you haven’t read this book yet and have been umming and aahing about picking it up, please finish your current read and read it next! I put off reading this book for the longest time, even after it won the Costa Award for Best Debut Novel and even still when it was long-listed for The Women’s Prize For Fiction this year. I have heard so many rave reviews and sometimes all the hype can make me steer clear of a book rather than gravitating towards it. After all, what if it isn’t as good as everyone says? What if I’m the lone wolf in a sea of popular opinion? I’m delighted to tell you, I’m most definitely a sheep. I ADORE THIS BOOK. Janel from Keeper Of Pages (please follow her, she’s one of my blogger bezzies and a wonderful reviewer!) finally convinced me to pick this novel up in our second buddy read this month and like The Fireman last month, we both can’t speak highly enough of it. Please check out her awesome review HERE. This novel has the strange accolade of being heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. It made me laugh, it brought me close to tears and finally, now I see what all the fuss is about.

Gail Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

So, is Eleanor Oliphant Completely Fine? Well, no she’s not. You know that very British thing that most of us do when we’re feeling rubbish and yet someone asks us how we are and we say: “Fine, thank you,” when we’re clearly not?! This is poor Eleanor. Her life consists of working nine to five, five days a week in an accounting firm in Glasgow. She barely interacts with anybody except to do her job and her social awkwardness and blunt way of speaking does not endear her to her co-workers. In fact, she becomes quite the figure of fun. As soon as Friday hits, Eleanor grabs a couple of bottles of her favourite vodka, shuts herself up in her house and doesn’t speak to another living soul until Monday morning when the whole cycle starts again. This is until she meets Raymond who works in IT at her company and they both help a stranger when he falls ill in public. From here on, Eleanor’s life changes dramatically and will never be the same again. She begins to realise she is not in the slightest “fine,” and never wishes to be so miserable or lonely again.

Glasgow, Scotland where our story is set.

I can’t even deal with how many emotions this book evoked from me. I felt an instant connection when I realised it was set in Scotland, as my veins do run blue with Scottish blood but besides the setting, this is such a stunning piece of debut fiction that it took my breath away. Beginning in quite a melancholy way, where we see the loneliness and hopelessness of our female lead’s life was gut-wrenching to say the least. However, then it changes and the story is so very uplifting that it made me cheer silently multiple times as I got to know Eleanor, broke my heart for her, rooted for her and at the end, felt real and definite hope for her future. Eleanor is a complex character that really gets under your skin. Because of her past, she is not aware of the intricate niceties of interacting with other people and can come across rude, abrupt and brutally honest.

I couldn’t believe some of the things that she came out with sometimes, there were plenty of laughs but I remember at the same time shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at her naivety when facing the modern world. Things like smartphones, going to gigs and getting her nails done are big deals for Eleanor and as she continued to force herself into new, sometimes scary situations, I couldn’t help but smile at the endearing nature of it all. You don’t find out what has happened in Eleanor’s past until quite late on in the novel and although Janel and I desperately wanted to know what had gone on with her, I completely believe this was the perfect way to structure the book. You fall in love with Eleanor first as a character and it only makes it more heart-breaking when the trauma of her past is finally revealed in full, horrific detail.

Please do me a favour and read this book if you haven’t already. Eleanor is such a special character and both her and her story will play on my mind for a long while to come.

Thank you once again to Janel for an amazing buddy reading experience!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published May 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What did I think?:

Recently, I’m getting more and more interested in non fiction, although I have to remind myself to “get reading” it, I have far too many fiction books begging to be read on my shelves. I was aware of H is For Hawk when it first came out and then it won the Costa Award for Best Biography in 2014 so I was even more intrigued to read it. I remember going into bookshops multiple times, seeing it there, picking it up and then putting it back down again. After all, how interesting can a book about training a hawk really be? Then my boyfriend listened to it on audiobook and raved about how wonderful it was. That was it, determined. I HAD to pick it up and read it soon. Well, I finally got round to it recently and oh my goodness, why on earth did I wait that long?! This was a wonderful, touching and fascinating read that gave me a little fuzzy feeling inside and an instant admiration and respect for the author, Helen Macdonald.

The author of H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald with her goshawk. I love this picture!

Yes, H is For Hawk IS about how Helen learns to train a goshawk with very little previous experience but this book is also about so much more. She originally gets her first goshawk, Mabel after the sudden death of her beloved father and whilst she is struggling with her grief, she finally realises one of her biggest dreams since she was a little girl, becoming a falconer. When she was younger, Helen loved to read the author T.H. White’s non fiction book entitled The Goshawk which described his own experiences as a novice training a bird of prey. She decides to re-visit that book as an adult whilst training Mabel and basking in the memories of her father and the reader is treated to parts of T.H. White’s own story as he battled with both a cranky, independent goshawk and the truth of his own sexuality which he was desperate to hide.

The goshawk (not Mabel, just a random one!) but an absolutely beautiful bird of prey, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I adored reading Helen’s story, from the minute she bought Mabel to the early days of training and the struggles with an incredibly fiesty, stubborn creature. Then there were both heart-breaking and heart-warming passages as Helen’s grief for her father threatens to overwhelm her, leading her to neglect her mental health, shut herself off from friends and social events and make her worry that she’ll never be able to connect with her strange new animal companion. Then there are the triumphs which quite honestly, brought a tear to my eye. I’m a huge animal lover anyway but there was a particular scene in H is For Hawk that really choked me up. Helen has been told that goshawk’s don’t really “play,” but one evening, Helen decides to throw a paper ball at Mabel and the goshawk begins to join in, tossing and crunching the ball and moving her head to stare at Helen through a paper tube, extremely happy and content. This was a huge breakthrough for both Helen and Mabel and it was a passage I had to read over and over again, it was too adorable for words and I loved seeing both Mabel’s personality coming out and Helen’s happiness in the goshawk’s reaction.

This is a far more emotional read than I was anticipating and really demonstrates the nature of grief, which rolls around like waves and may severely affect you some days more than others. I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for being so honest about her suffering and am certain it will help other people going through the same thing, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the potential to be happy again. I’m also delighted to have found Mabel, such a huge character and beautiful creature that I’ll find difficult to forget, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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