January started with dating and ended with reading. A vast improvement! I picked three books, relatively randomly, but they all seemed to share some similar themes; aloneness, disconnection and mental health issues.
The first book I read was The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. This isn’t a new book, (published in 2008) but was new to me. I came across it when I was doing a bit of research around F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In this book the main protagonist, Laurel, grew up near East and West Egg, the areas where Gatsby and the Buchanans live in the novel. The book is based on the premise that the events in The Great Gatsby were true and explores what happened to Tom and Daisy (and their family) after Gatsby was killed.
Laurel is attacked while out cycling. After this she becomes withdrawn and focuses on her photography and volunteering at a local shelter, where she meets a homeless man who she believes is the youngest child of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. After he dies she becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about his life.
I won’t say much more for fear of giving away the novel’s twist. I guessed what this would be part way through, but didn’t work all of it out. It was an interesting read, but probably not one that I will pick up again to reread. It was the first of this author’s books I’d read and his style of writing didn’t quite gel for me. However, if you like a thriller, or are interested in what may have happened post-Gatsby, then you might enjoy this.
The next novel was Lullaby by Leila Silmani. She is a French author and the novel was a best seller in France. It has now been translated into English and has had quite a lot of press coverage, mainly due to the subject matter. The cover says “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” The story focuses on Myriam and her husband Paul who decide to get a nanny for their two children so Myriam can return to work as a lawyer. They find Louise who seems perfect. However as the reader you know that she will kill the children and it’s a matter of waiting and working out how and why this happened.
There is a lot of focus on gender and class and the story is fairly tightly plotted. There is real sense of Parisian life and culture and how similar and different it is from ours. The end did seem quite rushed however, which was a shame. The language was stilted in some places and I’m not sure if this was due to the translation or if this is how the original was written. It was also unusual to read a book where none of the characters are particularly likeable. I imagine it must be a difficult read though for parents who rely on a nanny for their children.
The last book was a debut novel from Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. This was my favourite of the three by a mile. It’s about a thirty-something single woman who has clearly had a traumatic childhood and has a difficult relationship with her estranged mother. She is a creature of habit and very literal in her understanding of the world. She keeps herself isolated from her colleagues, until a chance encounter changes that. Eleanor’s observations are hilarious, and the book was a real page-turner. It is horrific in parts but written beautifully with some well-drawn, believable characters. The denouement was quite surprising but left hope for a sequel. I would really recommend this one to anyone.
In all three the main protagonists are women who are all slightly separate from the rest of society and struggle in different ways with accepting that. They all have mental health issues to some degree and find it hard to connect with others, feeling a need to prove something to either themselves or other people. While they may have had experiences I have not shared, or may not all have been particularly likeable, it was interesting to see the commonalities and also understand a different perspective on life from mine.
As always, books open doors to different lives and different viewpoints. I’ve been back to Waterstones for more, so my dating tales are likely to be interspersed with book reviews. You have been warned!