Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reading and other Fall Pleasures


I am very happy to say hello to November. Fall has officially arrived in Los Angeles and what a relief it is. Last week we were in deep, deep summertime heat. The temperatures hovered in the eighties throughout most of October and for several days even in the hundreds. Finally the heat wave has broken and we are enjoying some cool weather. Autumn has arrived!

For me fall is the cozy season. It's all about cooking, nesting, having friends over, making the first fire of the season, and getting ready for the holidays. It is my favorite time of the year. I would also add reading as one of my favorite activities when the weather gets cooler. I tend to read more ambitious books at this time of year, often selecting a classic which I can sink into on a chilly afternoon.

Right I am rereading "The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton. This book still takes my breath away. Edith Wharton was a superb writer, story teller, and observer of society. This book is definitely one of her masterpieces and an excellent example of literary fiction, an interesting category that has been on my mind lately. I recently went to a Writing Retreat in Italy (an amazing experience!) and we discussed the difference between literary and commercial fiction. Here is what I learned: in literary fiction character comes before plot, the prose is rich and finely crafted with line by line brilliance, and reading is a deeper experience, one in which the novel's events say something about what it means to be human and what it takes to get by in this world. "The House of Mirth" covers all those bases. Commercial fiction is much more about plot. It is fast-paced, page-turning, and offers instant gratification. I wondered which recent books fall into the literary fiction category? I think the books of Ian McKewan, such as "The Children Act" and "Atonement," would count as literary fiction. I also thought "The Essex Serpent" by Sarah Perry would qualify as such.

And maybe the book I just finished -- "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman. I read it on the flight home from Rome to Los Angeles. I was riveted and couldn't put it down. I'm not sure how to categorize this book except to say it is one of the freshest and most original voices I have read in a long time.

That voice belongs to Eleanor Oliphant, the main character, who may be the loneliest woman in all of literature. She has no friends or family and goes for entire weekends without speaking to a soul. When we first meet her she is leading a very solitary life. She goes to work each day and talks to no one except out of necessity. There is no water cooler chitchat for Eleanor. She goes home each night, eats her dinner, and drinks enough vodka to knock herself out. She wakes up and does the same thing all over again the next day. She is very bright and inadvertently funny. Because she is isolated from most people and out of touch with what they get up to she makes comments about cultural norms and customs that are very humorous. She lives alone and is occasionally visited by a social worker who wants to know how she is doing. Eleanor tells her she is completely fine but even the social worker knows this isn't true. For one thing, one half of Eleanor's body is covered in scars. The reader knows it from the very first sentence of the book and the mystery we want to solve is why Eleanor is the way she is. Fortunately hope comes in the form of an unkempt but kind tech guy at work who takes an interest in Eleanor.

The story of how this successful debut novel came to be written is fascinating and very inspiring. Gail Honeyman, who is in her forties, wrote the novel while she worked at Glasgow University. She wrote it in bits and pieces whenever she wasn't at work. She entered it in a writing competition where it was discovered. Much to her surprise it ignited a bidding war on the eve of the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair. It sold to Harper Collins for a high six-figure sum and has subsequently been sold to 28 publishers around the world. Reese Witherspoon's production company bought the film rights. Gail Honeyman is still reeling from this fairy tale ending. It's the kind of story that gives aspiring writers hope!

I would love to know if you have read "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine."
Also, please share anything else you are reading and can recommend. The cozy season has arrived.
Happy Reading!

17 comments:

  1. I haven't read Eleanor Oliphant yet, but have it on my nightstand. Such an interesting post. I was talking to a friend yesterday about how in the summer I'm drawn to more commercial fiction (plot driven) but when the weather cools down, it's all about character driven novels for me. House of Mirth is one of my favorite books and like you, have re-read it a few times.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy! And yes, Edith Wharton really stands the test of time. xx

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  2. Happy Fall Sunday! I haven't read Elenor Oliphant yet either, it is on my kindle. Thanks for the great review, I will now be moving it up my list!

    Have a fabulous weekend.

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  3. Well I definitely want to read it now I've learnt more about it - and you recommend it Sunday! Thanks for the heads up. Just finished Anthony Doerr's "All The Light We Cannot See" - awesome, and one book I'll keep and re-read in years to come - it has to be very special for me to do that with so many books and not enough time! If you've not read it I think you'd enjoy it.
    Happy fall - glad you had a wonderful trip to Italy.
    Mary -

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    1. Mary, thank you for your kind words. I also enjoyed "All the Light We Cannot See." Happy fall to you!

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  4. Sounds like another one for my book pile!

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    1. Hi Gail, oh yes that ever-growing pile! If you're like me it is pretty huge! Hope you're enjoying fall in the Hamptons. xxoo

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  5. P. S. I think you would like, “Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk” by Kathleen Rooney

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  6. Your writer’s seminar sounds fascinating. What a treat! I have often wondered how to describe literary fiction. I haven’t read Eleanor Oliphant. It has mine on my radar for a few weeks. Thanks for the review... I will be picking it up. Bonnie

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  7. Such a great post! I recently finished Eleanor Oliphant and loved it, but I've struggled knowing how to describe the type of book it is. Your summary of the plot and Eleanor's character are just right. I think I always prefer what you have called literary fiction. I agree with Mary's comment about All the Light We Cannot See, and I've just moved my copy of The House of Mirth to the top of my "to be read" stack next to my bed. Your review is just what I needed!

    Love your blog,
    Paula

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    1. Thank you, Paula! So glad you enjoyed "Eleanor."

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  8. Thank you Sunday. I need some fiction to read as I can't pick them. I really enjoyed Sally Quinn's latest and am just starting a new book about Joni Mitchell.

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    1. Hi Donna, good to know. I'm always looking for recommendations. Happy reading!

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