Monthly Archives: July 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Everyone is reading and loving Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and now I’ve joined that club. It’s easy to see why this has been such a great success. It’s moving, funny, and relatable (maybe only in very small ways to some people! I’ll come back to this later).

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Eleanor Oliphant is a woman with serious social issues. She tries to convince herself she is fine, but she so clearly is not. We learn about her life, and slowly about her history. Some events happen to change her clearly carved out, rigid routine and the book follows the consequences of this. No spoilers here!

It’s such a great book. I really love Eleanor. She doesn’t do things just because it is expected, or the done thing. She questions everything and makes her own mind up about them. I loved this about her, probably because I’m a bit like that too. Not to aaaannnnyywhere near the extent that Eleanor is, but you know, I could see some of myself in her socially awkward charm.

 

I think most people occasionally feel like they don’t fit in, or feel a bit awkward. Maybe not everyone, I don’t know, there must be some psychopaths who never feel these things. And so I think everyone at some level can relate to Eleanor, even though she is very, very extreme. You also feel very sorry for Eleanor and her situation. From very early on you are rooting for her to get more in her life!

Eleanor’s observations can also be very funny.

I went to see Loretta, the office manager. She has overinflated ideas of her own administrative abilities, and in her spare time makes hideous jewellery, which she then sells to idiots.

I did feel personally attacked by this one though, on music and physics:

I have yet to find a genre of music that I enjoy; it’s basically audible physics, waves and energised particles, and, like most sane people, I have no interest in physics.

Oh, Eleanor.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine does go to very dark places, but even the darkest moments are littered with humour.

I wanted to die – this time, in addition to actually wanting to die, I meant it in the metaphorical sense too.

So join the bandwagon with me and, if you haven’t already read it, go and read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

 

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The Pisces – Melissa Broder

I reeealllly enjoyed The Pisces by Melissa Broder. It’s very funny, I loved the main characters voice. It also contains quite a lot of erotic scenes, yey! It’s also dark. Very dark about love and obsession. The perfect triad of words to describe a book: funny, erotic, and dark.

… the darkness that inevitably fell when you spent too much time basking in the sun of a man.

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Our main character is Lucy. She is struggling to finish her PhD on Sappho when she has a devastating break up with her long term boyfriend. It causes her to spiral into a breakdown and she ends up recovering at her sister’s beach front house, in Venice CA, where she house sits and looks after her sister’s precious dog. She also has to attend group therapy where she meets other love obsessives in various states of control over themselves and their love lives. Lucy then meets a Merman, obviously, and falls for him hard.

I instantly fell in love with Lucy’s voice. The Pisces starts with her musing about picking up dog shit and I was with her. And it was gross. Lucy is wry, and sarcastic, and funny, and makes excellent observations about the people she meets.

On the therapy group she’s required to attend:

There were four women in the group, plus the therapist and me. But they all blurred together into a multiheaded hydra of desperation.

I identified with a lot of  Lucy’s situation, not all of it, thank god. But she is the same age as me. She is dating for the first time in a decade. Snap. She has PhD problems – mine are very historical, but snap. She is completely not in control of herself when it comes to men. Erm.. thankfully I’ve got a slightly better handle on this one! I agreed with a lot of her thoughts and observations. If you’ve read The Pisces, you can judge me accordingly!

On the outcome of a quite bad date:

Sure, the experience itself had been disappointing and gross, but at least it was different from the disappointment I’d grown used to in my years with Jamie.

She also makes quite a lot of references to Homer and the classics, but she is a PhD student studying Sappho, so it completely fits. Also, obviously she has met a mythical creature, so references to this type of thing is also to be expected. It fits in quite well with my summer reading of The Iliad. Serendipitous, you could say. As well as all the classics chat there are quality sentences like:

“The universe is a wanker,” she said

Clever things + swearing. I’m in heaven.

and if you’re in any doubt about the tone of The Pisces, I’ll end with this quote:

Didn’t we all just want a thousand hard cocks attached to the bodies of boys who have died for us, still warm, to plug our infinite holes?

I dunno this just seems appropriate to leave here…

Still Me – JoJo Moyes

I’m not going to say a lot about this book. I am definitely not the right person for the series of books this is part of (though I enjoyed the first one, Me Before You). Many, many people love this series, and that is great. They aren’t wrong, this book just isn’t for me.

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I ended up reading it because it was chosen for book club. I had already read the first in the series, but clearly I couldn’t skip the second book (After You), so this as a book club book, actually meant I had to read two books! Two books I didn’t like….. urrrghhhhhhhh…

Our main character is Louisa Clark. While still grieving for Will, and drifting aimlessly, she takes a job in New York as an assistant to a rich lady. We meet her as she arrives in New York having friendly banter with an immigration officer. Because that’s what immigration is exactly like in the USA.

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I did this one as an audio book.

She becomes the assistant of Agnes. I won’t give away the rest of the plot, but she is concerned about men a lot. Then things happen where she feels sorry for herself, but then magical amazing things just land in her god-damned lap.

I get irked by the number of characters who are basic stereotypes, and I don’t really like Louisa either, though her character develops in this book to be more like I wanted her to be from the start!

The saving grace of Still Me is old lady Mrs De Witt. Fiesty, fashionable, ferocious Mrs De Witt. Thank you Mrs De Witt.

The End.

The Iliad – Homer (part 1 of 4)

As it is a literal epic, I’m splitting my review of The Iliad into four parts. Mostly because I’m summing up each chapter (called books in The Iliad) as I go through it, and because there’s 24 of them, it would be a bit much to put in one review! Plus I get to see I’m making progress!! So each part of the review deals with 6 of The Iliad’s 24 books.

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The cover is exciting.

Before I got started with this, I took some time to try and carefully choose which version of The Iliad I would read. There are many different translations, and you too can go online and read the pros and cons of each one. I can’t now remember why I decided to go with the Richard Lattimore translation, because it’s over a year ago that I bought it, but I’m happy with it. It doesn’t rhyme but it is actually really easy to read. This was a surprise! There is now a translation by Caroline Alexander, and articles about it tell me she is the first female translator of The Iliad. I’d definitely be interested in reading this version at some point.

I’ve been wanging on about wanting to read more really classic books for years, and finally, realised I could just actually do it. I worked out that, as part of my 20 Books of Summer challenge, I could get through it by reading 6 pages a day. This includes a really lengthy introduction. I was really encouraged by reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, as this is set amongst the events around the Iliad, so I felt like I was going into it with a clear idea of the story. I am also partly motivated by wanting to know more about it so I am better at answering quiz questions on the topic. I’ll let you know if this works. 😀

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don’t think I’ll need the calculator for this one.

If you are in any way an academic, or learned person, you should probably not read my summary of the story. Leave now.

The setting

We join the battle at Troy after it’s been going on for 10 years. The reason there’s a battle at all is because Trojan Paris went and stole Helen away from her husband, Menelaos. King of Sparta. The Greeks all join forces to go and get her back.

Book One

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Actually surprisingly easy to read.

Agamemnon has a war prize lady called Chryseis. Her Father is a priest of Apollo, Chryses. He brings ransom to Agamemnon and asks for his daughter back. Agamemnon tells him to do one. Chryses asks Apollo to step in and sort it out for him. Apollo begins to reign death and destruction on to the Greeks.

Achilleus asks Agamemnon to change his mind and give the daughter back, you know, to stop all the death and destruction. Agamemnon tells him to do one. But eventually is persuaded by all the death and destruction to give Chryseis back. He’s feeling all wounded though, and to save face he demands Achilles war bride, Briseis in return. Achilleus says if he takes Briseis he will be mega offended and won’t fight anymore. Agamemnon takes Briseis. Achilleus has a cry.

Achilleus cries to his mum about it (scary sea nymph, Thetis, a goddess of water). She goes and persuades Zeus to intervene on her son’s behalf by letting the Trojans win for a bit. Hera, Zeus’ sister-wife (wtf?) is well pissed off that Zeus has agreed to help Thetis and Achilleus, but she’s persuaded to let him get on with it. She’s fuming though, you can tell.

Book 2

Zeus is going to appear to Agamemnon in a dream and trick him into thinking the he’s on his side. He says he’s going to help make the Trojans weak

But then they all get on their ships to go home, so I think I might have misunderstood Zeus and his dream thing.

Odysseus nicks Agamemnon’s special sceptre and goes about trying to persuade everyone to stay and fight. He’s been persuaded to do this by Athene, who in turn was encouraged by Hera (Zeus’s sister-wife who was pissed off in book 1, remember).

Some banter happens, then they are all staying to fight.

Then about 100000 pages of listing everyone involved and how many ships they’ve got. OMG please stop.

Book 3.

They start to go back to fighting. On the way Paris goes ahead of the Trojans to offer himself to a Greek for a one on one fight. Menelaos steps forward and Paris shits himself and tries to go back into the main crowd of Trojans. Hektor shames him, and Paris then says, ‘yeh, well I would totally just fight Menelaos if everyone else would just sit down!’

Hektor gets them all to sit down and arranges the one on one fight. Obviously there’s sacrifices that must be made first, and important people brought to watch (Priam, Paris’s father, and Helen). The winner gets Helen, and everyone will then go home.

They fight, but gods intervene (Aphrodite for Paris). Aphrodite just whisks him away to his bed, and then makes Helen go to him. Helen is well pissed off.

Agamemnon rages outside and declare Menelaos has won. And all the Greeks cheer. End of Book 3.

Book 4

The Gods are sat around like they are spectating the battle at a stadium. Zeus needs to decide if he should make the battle continue, or make them all friends. It’s decided there should be more battle, with the Trojans breaking the oath made previously.

Athene goes and persuades a Trojan archer to try and kill Menelaos. He tries, but she goes and makes sure it’s only a bad scratch.

Fighting ensues.

Book 5

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A good Friday night in. Awesome sticker being used as a book mark. Special pencil. haha.

More fighting happens.

Diomedes, the greatest Greek fighting, while Achilleus is not participating, is in a proper battle fury and kills loads of people.

What happens next is the pesky gods start to intervene. Athene helps out, Aphrodite gets involved. Ares goes battle crazy and ends up on a super murderous spree for the Trojans. Then Athene gets permission from Zeus to sort him out.

It ends with a petulant Ares going whinging to his Dad, and his Dad (Zeus) gives him a ticking off. It is not OK to go on a mad killing spree for the Trojans, son.

Book 6

Some fighting happens without any Gods intervening. Hektor gets sent back to Troy to tell the ladies to make an offering of a robe to Athene to see if she’ll help them again. She ignores them. While he’s there he tells Paris to stop sitting about and actually do some fighting. He visits his wife. Then Hektor and Paris set off back to the fighting. That took 15 pages.

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Just a quick note: I’ve tried my best to stick to the spellings of names as they appear in my version of The Iliad. Some characters have several names, but I’m sticking to just one in my review, because otherwise it’s super confusing. Paris is also called Alexandros, for example. The Greeks are also referred to as the Danaans, the Argives, and the Achaeans. Quite.

Bet you can’t wait for part 2!!!!!!

 

Books Bought and Read – June 2018

Books Bought

Firstly I visited Foyles on a trip to London, and even though I wanted to buy ALL THE BOOKS, I limited myself to two. I got Heartburn by Nora Ephron, and To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell.

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The next book I got this month was a copy of Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller. This is exciting because it was sent to me by Penguin, and I never get books sent to me. This is the first one, so I’m pretty excited about it.

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Later in the month I visited Oxford and went to the Oxfam books there. I got Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – I had a copy that I lent out years ago and never got back, so I’ve been waiting to replace it! I also got Interpreter of  Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and Girls in their Married Bliss by Edna O’Brien.

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While I was in Oxford I was staying at Christ Church College. I was literally having breakfast in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and let me tell you I was beyond excited about this. I know I don’t look it in the picture, but it was very early, and very busy, and I was trying to take my photo without looking like too much of a knobhead. Also, the stairs up to the hall are a Harry Potter location. Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hogwarts!

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The final purchases of June, were part of my Happy Pay Day celebrations. I bought myself four books: I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek, The Boy With the Top Knot by Sathnam Sanghera, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, and The Bricks that Built the Houses by Kate Tempest.

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Books Read

Everyday Sexism – Laura Bates

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A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

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Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

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Little Black Book –  Otegha Uwagba

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting – Robert McKee

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How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

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Conclave – Robert Harris

A book about a bunch of old dudes sitting around and choosing the next Pope. Sorry, a THRILLER about choosing a Pope. What?? I was glad this was chosen for book club because I couldn’t see how this book could possibly be as good as everyone said it was.

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I ended up really enjoying Conclave. It makes a nice change to have elderly people as the all the main characters. I wasn’t so enamoured about the dude level of this story, but I can forgive it because at least there was a clear reason for it! The youngest cardinal in the conclave is a sprightly 62, and all the reeeaaalllly old ones (over 80 years old) are not allowed in to vote.

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I liked how the ‘action’ was centred around these old dudes and them having meals, then being shuffled off the the Sistine Chapel for a round of voting or two, then back for a meal, then a bit more voting, then another meal, and to bed! There were some events that happened in the outside world, but it barely affects our conclave of elderly cardinals.

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Having said all that, there builds a real anticipation over events. I almost cried when the next Pope was chosen. As if! Me, a committed atheist, almost moved to tears by a fictional Pope being decided on. Craziness. And of course none of the events are going to be as straightforward as they could be, even if a few things were a little predictable, not everything was.

I’ve also learned more than I could possible want to know about the choosing of a Pope. I ended up on a Wikipedia adventure after the Pope who exploded is mentioned. And I now know more than I could ever want to know about Cardinal clothes.

Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is funny as fuck. There. That’s it. Read this book if you want to laugh.

 

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In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of “Hollywood in-breeding,” come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.

Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

And really, she is very funny. Some bits of this book were funny enough that I had to photograph them and send them to a friend.