Have you read…? Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Oh my! What a gem this book is! Beautifully realised characters each with their own distinct voice, astute observations on society and the human condition all wrapped up in an original narrative that avoids resorting to well-worn tropes. I had no idea how this novel was going to end – in a good way! I am hesitant to be too specific about what takes place because if you haven’t read it, I want you to be able to sit back and allow Eleanor’s life to unfold as you turn each page. If you have read it, then we can nod knowingly at each other, observing ‘wasn’t it lovely when […]?’, ‘wasn’t it moving when […]?, ‘how funny was it when […]?’ So here comes a very broad, non-specific review!

Eleanor Oliphant is in her early thirties, lives alone in Glasgow, and is completely fine. She has a flat, an office job, she is clean, she has food. She fills her leisure time reading, listening to the radio, buying provisions at Tesco and drinking vodka. She has a very distinct turn of phrase and manner of conversation! We are made aware that Eleanor has suffered significant traumatic events in her life which have inevitably shaped her, and these are revealed in a very organic and natural way. Eleanor’s solitary existence is disturbed when Raymond, the IT guy at work, becomes present in her life. And I want to leave it at that! What I will say is that this novel explores the power both kindness and cruelty have to shape our lives, what it is to be alone and lonely, that our lives can be enriched in ways we may not have been aware they could be, and how we can transform our lives when the right circumstances arise.

As I approached the final pages, I was in a quandary – I wanted to keep reading to know how it would end but did not want the joy of reading this book to be over. Now that it is, I am keen to re-read it, pencil in hand, and to underline the observations Honeyman has made about our society, and to highlight the expertly crafted sentences. A fabulous read. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Taking Stock: July ‘18 Port Fairy edition

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Hey gang! How are things? My man and I have headed to the coast for a short winter break. I love the beach at winter. The grey skies, the rolling waves, the bracing air. Blows the cobwebs away! We haven’t been to Port Fairy for years – it is a bit of a hike from Melbourne! It’s been nice to reacquaint ourselves with this quiet little town. And it’s been nice to have some time together! An interruption to the normal daily routine is the perfect time to take stock.

Making: nothing at the moment! There’s weavings at home but this week has been a ‘make free’ time for me.

Cooking: very little. Whatever is easy in our little kitchen.

Drinking: tea, coffee, cocktails!

Eating: a delicious dinner at the Merrijig Inn and yummy pizza at Coffin Sally

Reading: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which I am LOVING! Have you read it?

Watching: Shetland season 4. We could almost see ourselves there as we gazed out at our own stormy seas and overcast sky!

Buying: coffees, magazines (an essential part of any holiday, I feel) and A Forger’s Tale

Opening: magazines for weaving inspiration.

Taking: lots of photos.

Hearing: waves, wind

Looking: at clouds, swaying grasses, sea foam

Noticing: birds are so much more interesting when you head out of the city. We’ve acquainted ourselves with the hooded plover and the pie eyed oystercatcher which my man remembered from his childhood stamp collection! Maybe we’ll become twitchers!

Pondering: the meaning of life! Breaks away always provide the space for some introspection! What brings us fulfilment? How to achieve work-life balance? What new routines could bring greater joy to life? How do we venture into a new stage of life? Not sure if we came up with answers but useful to contemplate!

Enjoying: sleep ins in a comfy bed! I find it difficult to come across a comfy bed in holiday accommodation. I often find them too soft and end up with a sore back. This one is a goody!

Wondering: why bathrooms in holiday accommodation are always so poorly lit and exhaust fans do such an ineffective job at steam extraction.

Thinking: it might be time for another cup of tea

Liking: regional holidays. There’s something very comforting about holidaying locally. It’s like pulling on a pair of comfy slippers. Not a lot of research is needed to plan the holiday nor is there the compulsion to see certain sights. There’s no anxiety about how to get from A to B, eating out customs don’t need to be understood. It’s just chill. And a reminder that there are some lovely places to see not far from home.

I hope your July has been a happy one. Maybe you are back from a break away? Or heading to one soon? Perhaps you’d like to head over to Pip’s blog and see what’s been happening to her in July!

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Have you read…? The Nowhere Child by Christian White

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I have been in a reading slump this year. Yep, I have! Not sure if it’s been me or the books. I’ve kept turning pages, but I feel like I have been DRAGGING myself through them, and by the time I’ve reached the end, the idea of writing a review has been ‘meh’! I have just finished Christian White’s debut novel, The Nowhere Child, and I think I can manage to put together some thoughts on this one!

The Nowhere Child won last year’s Victorian Premier’s Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript under the title Decay Theory. I’ve enjoyed reading previous winners’ works, such as The DryForeign Soil and Australia Day, so I was keen to give White’s novel a go.

In 1990, two year old Sammy Went disappears from her home in Manson, Kentucky. Twenty five years later, Kim Leamy, a photography teacher in Melbourne, Australia, is approached by a stranger who tells her that he believes she is Sammy Went. That Sammy and Kim are the same person is settled within the first few chapters – a little too readily perhaps? – and the remainder of the novel is concerned with how Sammy’s disappearance from Manson, and reappearance in Melbourne, came about. Was this a random child abduction? Did it have something to do with the religious cult Sammy’s birth mother was part of? How could Kim reconcile her Australian mother, now deceased, with being an international child abductor?  The need to find out these answers made this book an engaging read. But whilst these questions did keep me turning the pages, the writing, for me, was a bit of a let down.

White follows a non-linear structure with chapters alternating between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Sometimes I find this can be frustrating if a chapter is beginning to build momentum and the time frame then shifts, but for the most part, White manages to avoid this by bringing each chapter to a satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, towards the end of the novel, three chapters in a row concluded with a ‘and then everything turned to black’ scenario which was perhaps a little too convenient. In addition, some of White’s writing fell short with his tendency to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’. Kim’s first in depth conversation with her birth sister, Emma, for example:

It turned out Emma and I had a lot in common: we both hated it when people cracked their knuckles, had a strong aversion to feet and enjoyed Gillian Flynn novels. And we both got tattoos when we were younger that we regretted.

Some dialogue could have been used to make this point. As it is written, it lacks a deft touch. Similarly, in the final pages, when Kim is returning to Melbourne:

As the 787 descended over Melbourne, I looked out over the city. It was flat and grey, familiar yet somehow different.

This place hasn’t changed, I decided. But the woman coming back here has.

A bit clichéd?

Chopping sentences here or there, trusting that the reader would fill in the blanks, would, for me, have resulted in a more polished novel. White didn’t need to tell me, for example, that Emma was stepping inside a house when I’d already been shown that the door was opened to her and her friend, Shelley. A tendency to repeat phrases or descriptions, for me, came across as either loose writing or editing – the ‘creaking’ of the Eckles’s gate and the use of  rope for a makeshift latch didn’t need to be mentioned multiple times, for example, or ‘back in Australia’ twice in a paragraph. And horror of horrors, a minor character’s name changed between paragraphs! Eek!

There was a twist at the end which I was not expecting but aspects to the way the novel wrapped up came across as a little cute. Some dialogue in the final pages rather than the expository style used would have lifted the writing.

Maybe I am being too critical? I suppose it’s because the writing fell a short of previous winners’ books. My expectations were high. White says in his author’s note, he’s ‘only just getting started’ so perhaps I should be a bit more forgiving. As an easy to read, entertaining story, I’d give it a tick. I hope he can come up with another cracking idea and polish the writing a little more so that his next novel is truly satisfying.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Ditching the car

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I was walking home from my local shops this morning, the winter sun shining, groceries and a birthday present swinging by my side, and I thought about how much I enjoy not having to jump in the car to run all my errands anymore. When the kids were younger and at school, taking the car was a necessity. The days’ activities ran to a tight schedule and it seemed that the extra twenty minutes it would take me to walk to and from the shops was time that I could not spare.

When my girl got her licence last year, there were some rumblings from the younger people in the house that we may need to add another car to our two-car household. That would have been a COMPLETE waste of their money. We’re fortunate where we live that we have two train stations within fifteen minutes walk, and a tram stop five minutes walk away. The kids get the train to and from uni and to their part time jobs, so WHY  would we need another car? I was determined not to give them any ammunition in their car-seeking mission so I decided I would put on my walking shoes or break out the myki whenever any potential conflicting car driving demands could arise.

I remember reading some time ago that our ex-PM, Tony Abbott, wrote in his book Battlelines that we should always invest in roads rather than public transport because people would always prefer to travel in cars because “The humblest person is king in his own car.” Apparently that is because we can choose whichever radio station we want to listen to in our own car. Think earbuds may have blown that argument out of the water, Tony! I can pop those in on my walk, or on the tram or train, and feel quite queenly! On the tram or the train I can read a book which gives me even greater mastery, or mistress-y, of my domain! And I like not having to battle the traffic. Perhaps I am the master of my own car, but this gives me no power to find a path through traffic congestion!

I enjoy not having to always isolate myself in my car. I like getting in and out amongst the people! I like walking along the street, looking at people’s gardens, noticing any changes in my surrounds. There’s a sense of connectedness to the community that comes from walking to do my shopping, or from travelling to and from my activities on the tram or the train. I think about how we’re all heading to our different destinations and going about our daily lives.

I like my car. I wouldn’t give it up. But I like that I can now think ‘Do I need to take the car?’ For that time I’m out walking or sitting reading, watching, listening on the train, life slows down just that little bit.

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Taking Stock: June ’18

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Trip, trip, stumble. Stumble, trip, trip. And hello! *brushes self off* That is how I feel I have arrived at the halfway point of the year! My weeks have been very flexible in 2018 but that’s because they have lacked ROUTINE. My man has been working from home for a little bit, the boy and girl are in and out with their differing contact hours at uni, and I have been waking up in the mornings not quite sure what day of the week it is! Yoga on Thursday mornings seems to be my only anchor in the week. So how about a stocktake to see where we’re at!

Eating: crunchy peanut butter on bread

Drinking: green tea

Cooking: chilli con carne for dinner

Making: lots of soft foods. The boy and girl both had all their wisdom teeth taken out a fortnight ago so there has been a lot of soup and pasta on the menu. Good planning to have it done in winter, right? Perfect weather for soft food.

Watching: Killing EveNanette. Wow! Nanette was exceptional. one of the most effecting performances I have seen. Watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll become more empathetic, you’ll gain an insight into prejudice.

Reading: A Scandal in Bohemia about the unsolved murder in Melbourne in 1930 of Mollie Dean. Feels very current given recent events in Melbourne.

Listening: to Sofia Stefanovic on The Moth.

Waiting: to hear when my friend has had her baby! Not long now!

Wanting: my man to come back from his run so happy hour can begin!

Hearing: his key in the door. Woohoo!!

Buying: books! My local bookshop had 30% off today so why would I not take up that offer? I bought The Ruin and my man bought a couple on the state of the world at the moment which we’ll share.

Hoping: we can get out for a walk tomorrow morning. Too rainy today.

Noticing: how uplifting it is when we have positive interactions with strangers rather than when people get all uptight with each other. Smile and be polite, people! You’ll feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Thinking: driving in a car park should be part of licence testing. Keep to a lane please. And don’t cut corners!

Enjoying: watching little kids learning. The other day one of my babysitting charges and I went for a long neighbourhood walk. She picked flowers, we chatted about the different names of the plants, talked about what a ‘worry’ is! She showed me how she is learning to read and we sounded out some words together. And then at my post-yoga coffee, I had fun story time reading to my new little cafe buddy! ‘I want Carolyn to read this one,’ he said to his mum. Chuffed!

Liking: the MoMA exhibition at the NGV. Love the art and the history behind the works. Such a treat to see some fibre art included!

Disliking: people complaining about supermarkets no longer using  plastic bags. Keep your bags in your car, people, or stuff a nice rollable one in your bag for unexpected purchases. It’s not an inconvenience!

Knowing: our dog will never stop barking at possums!

How’s the first half of your 2018 been? Do you need to do a stock take too? Head over to Pip’s for some other things to think about.

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In praise of equanimity

 

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Here’s a thing that happened the other day. I had a bit of a bingle in the car. Well, my man’s car. Which is a much more expensive type than my car. Eep! I was turning left at an intersection I have been through HUNDREDS of times, when all of a sudden, THWACK!! ‘What the f*** was that?’ may have been my exclamation. I guess it was my fault – I assume I mustn’t have given way – but I honestly have no idea where she came from.  Anyhoo, we pulled over to do the whole name, contact, insurance details thingy, and I braced myself for a bit of a tirade. How wrong I was!

’I’m so sorry! I don’t know how I didn’t see you,’ I offered up as soon as I was out of the car, hoping to placate her anger.

’Don’t worry! It’s fine. It was an accident.’

Wow! That was it! She was so chill. And she was right. Of course it was an accident. I wouldn’t have intentionally pulled in fromt of her. I must have had a lapse in concentration. Or perhaps she was speeding. Or she turned on a red light. I don’t know. I didn’t see her until it was too late. But in this age of quick to anger reactions, her response was so refreshing. And appreciated. And a fantastic example to her young son who she had with her.

I texted her later in the day with the insurance claim details and apologised once again.

‘It’s ok. It was an accident.’

Wouldn’t it be fab if everyone responded with such kindness and understanding to tense situations?

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Soupy soup

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Well, it’s blowing a bit of a gale here! I’m looking out my back windows and watching the autumn leaves cascading to the ground, and zipping through the air, so strong is the wind. The rain has stopped for the moment but I don’t think it will be long before the plants will be receiving another soaking. It would be WRONG to have anything other than soup for dinner, wouldn’t it? Is there anything more hygge than sitting in front of the telly on a cold, wintry Friday night, feet in uggs, sipping soup in mugs?(ooh, that’s a nice rhyme!) Pumpkin soup is the soup of choice here when everyone in the family is home. This is the one I’ve made for tonight. I left out the turmeric and put some fresh ginger in instead. I always feel virtuous including pulses in my soups. I think it makes them more of a meal, and there’s something very nourishing about them. But every meal needs balance, right? So…I’ve also made the ol’ trusty Bill Granger brownie. I tell you, this is such a super easy, fail safe brownie recipe – apart from that one time when I was baking it at 7.30 in the morning in the rush to have it ready for a school morning tea and used two eggs instead of four. That was a sorry sunken mess! But when I have my sanguine mummy hat on, it ALWAYS ends up crusty on the outside, fudgy in the middle. I used white choc bits today instead of the dark chocolate. I like the butterscotch-y flavour the white chocolate adds to the gooey chocolate centre. And I sprinkled in a pinch of salt instead of the vanilla.

Keep warm, fellow Melburnians! And happy weekend to everyone!

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