Books

A Round-Up Of Some Books I’ve Read Recently

…because they’ve been in my drafts for ages. Most of them deserve their own posts, but at this rate they’re never going to be posted if I try to find time to do that, so they’ll just have to share. 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Initial warning: don’t read this if you’re not in a good place mentally. It’s an OK book with an interesting storyline but there are a couple of scenes that might fuck you up more if you’re already a bit headfucked.

Eleanor Oliphant lives a simple life in many ways, except that she’s a bit messed up. The problem – part of the problem – is that she doesn’t know it. She has her little routines: she gets up, goes to work, eats her lunchtime meal deal, comes home via the shop where she buys vodka, drinks too much when she’s home alone at the weekends. And she doesn’t feel like anything is missing, until one night she falls desperately in love with a rock musician. The only issue is that he doesn’t know who she is. Can she make him love her? Perhaps her new friend Raymond can help.

As Eleanor tries to pursue her crush, she ends up participating in more and more aspects of life. Things that were mysteries beforehand are now open to her: friendship, laughter, love, funerals. She thinks more about her fractious and difficult relationship with her mother, whom she calls every week despite the insistent negativity and stream of insults she encounters.

Does she get her man? The rock star? Are you kidding? Of course she doesn’t. But she does learn some stuff about life and love along the way, and there’s a twist at the end which you almost certainly won’t see coming.

I should have loved it, but I only liked it, because it felt like it was trying just a smidge too hard to be one of those quirky-funny-sometimes-sad books about being an outsider. I didn’t enjoy the twist because I felt like it cheapened the story. On the whole, though, I did like it even if it’s not one of my favourite books I’ve read this year. I’d recommend it if you like psychological thrillers or books about people on the fringes of society.


How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s The Humans is one of my favourite books ever. It’s difficult when an author does that, because it’s unlikely that any of their other books will live up to the same level of wonderfulness in your mind. So far the only author who’s managed it for me is Søren Kierkegaard.

However, How To Stop Time is very good and worth reading.

Tom Hazard is 41 years old. Except he’s not. He’s actually been alive for centuries, taking on various different personas throughout his long life. Quite why he’s like this no one is fully sure, but there is a secret society of people who know the deal, mainly because they’re long-lived too.

But Tom’s tired of being exceptional. He just wants to live a normal life and die at the end of it like any other person. He had a glimpse of that once, many years ago, and he’s never been able to shake the urge to return to it. To allow himself to fall in love, to live in a community, to entwine himself into the friendships and relationships so many people take for granted.

So he decides to become a history teacher: arguably the perfect job for someone who was alive when history was being made. All goes well enough at first, until he falls for someone… and the secret society he’s part of isn’t happy. ‘Don’t fall in love’ is their primary rule because of the complications it can cause, and as Tom’s heart sinks deeper into the maelstrom of emotions he’s finally allowing himself to feel, the head of the society decides to step in and stop it from happening.

The title is a quote from one of Haig’s other books, Reasons To Stay Alive. 

I enjoyed How To Stop Time even though I didn’t find it relatable in the same way as The Humans. It made me smile in places and I’m fairly sure I wrote down some quotes from it, but I can’t find them because it was several notebooks ago. It was a little too much of a romance for me to fully rave about it, but it’s still a sweet and touching story that you’ll probably enjoy.


Ink by Alice Broadway

When I first started reading this book I thought it was a metaphor for racism. And perhaps it is. But then I read this on page 85:

“Without transparency, integrity is impossible.”

and I realised that it might be more about how our lives are lived online now, for all to see. So many of the big tech companies and data crunching places (and indeed governments) take the “If you have nothing to hide, why worry?” view on privacy.

But there are reasons to be concerned.

Ink is the story of a girl named Leora. She lives in a society where everything that happens to a person is tattooed onto their body by an inker: those tasked with creating the artwork and preserving it indefinitely on an individual’s skin. When a person dies, their skin is made into a Skin Book, and this is then weighed in a judgement ceremony where the court looks at the marks their life has made and decides whether or not they will be remembered by the community.

Leora is sad when her father dies, but she takes comfort in knowing that he will be remembered and his name will be read out in the ceremony she’s participated in countless times. But when the day of judgement arrives, something’s wrong. Her father’s ink seems to have been modified – a grave offence in Leora’s community – and it looks like his memory might be scorned.

Noughts and Crosses for the digital age, Ink is a book everyone should read.


The Passage by Justin Cronin

You have to read this book because of the last line.

That might seem like a strange thing to say, especially since The Passage isn’t exactly short. It’s a hefty volume, which makes it not very easy to read on public transport or in the bath, and for that reason it took me a while to finish it.

Initially I wasn’t convinced. At base, it’s a zombie story, and I’m not really a zombie stories person. But it’s so much more than that.

We begin with Amy Harper Bellafonte, a young girl who’s dropped off at a convent by her mother, who never returns. One of the sisters takes Amy under her wing, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s something a bit different about this child, not least because some shady government agents seem to want to get their hands on her.

We’re shown the story from various points of view, the main juxtaposition being present and future. We see how a colony of survivors are living in a walled city – if not thriving, at least they’re getting by – and it feels very up-to-the-minute. But then we have these flashes forward into the future, when studies about the colony and their escapades are being presented at a sociology conference. We also get some flashbacks into the past, which help us to see how a deadly virus got out of control in a laboratory, and how it led to the downfall of humanity as it used to be known.

You’d think all these strands would be confusing, but Cronin masterfully weaves them together in a way that’s almost seamless.

It would take ages to write a full synopsis – the book has its own extensive Wikipedia page (with spoilers, though) so I won’t even try. But you should read it, because it’s good all the way through and because the last line will come out of nowhere and punch you in the gut.


Poems For Life selected by Laura Barber

My friend gave me this book a couple of months ago, and you can tell I liked it by the number of little sticky things hovering out of the top. I tend to bookmark poems I love because I know I’ll want to come back to them in the future, and there were several poems I loved in Poems For Life.

It’s set out much as the title suggests: beginning with babies and ending with death, and encompassing all life’s stages in between.

If you like poetry, you’ll love it – there are also some beautiful words hidden in the text. I love stumbling across word gems. Even if you’re not a poetry fan per se, there comes a time in all our lives when only a poem will do: weddings, funerals, and so on. It’s the kind of book you can keep on your shelf and dip into when you need it, or read from cover to cover if you’re a devourer of words like me.


There are still more books in my drafts, but I’m going to stop now because surely five is enough for one post. The rest will have to wait for another day.

What have you enjoyed reading recently? Let me know in the comments!

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