The Natural Way of Things

The Natural Way of ThingsThe Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this for a book club, and usually I don’t read any blurbs on book club choices so that it is a fresh read. I have to say that was a good thing with this story. I found this story disturbing, horrific, and completely absorbing. I’m glad I hadn’t read anything about it as I would have been expecting the subject-matter.

The part that I found the scariest, was that we are never given the full story of any of the women in the compound – yet I knew every story of the women in the compound. I knew them all, because they are so common, portrayed exactly as suggested by the media – and worse, the comments about these women that are remembered in the story are all comments I have read, made about such circumstances, all the time.

This story isn’t a walk-in-the-park type of look at women caught in ‘sex-scandals’ – it’s a brutal and confronting, in-your-face look at slut-shaming.

Wrapped around that is an even deeper story, as we realise no-one is delivering food to the compound, and their guards are just as trapped as the women – it takes on an almost Lord of the Flies feel. Except instead of the study of a group of young boys and their social structuring, we instead are given the study of a group of women with two easily-overpowered men, who are stuck in socially constructed, gendered roles – and how much of that becomes instinct, survival or rebellion.

I couldn’t stop reading, and had no clue how it would end. The writing was as brutal as the subject matter, and I had some issue with pacing and descriptions in some areas.

Yolanda and Verla are the eyes of the novel, and their individual insights are fantastic but at times repetitive. The author did well to keep them separate characters, and did well in continuing the story despite the madness creeping into their characters.

It wasn’t a pretty novel, but it is one that I will think about for a long time. I was especially impressed about this being an Australian novel, and love that it came from here. Would highly recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this a four, but I could have easily given it a two at the same time – three would have been a misleading middle ground, and I had no middle ground feeling with this story. I both loved and loathed it equally. I settled with the four because no other book in memory has given me such a mixed reaction to it.

I think I’ll start by saying that a much stronger editor would have helped this a lot. The twist at the end was over-reaching, completely unnecessary, and shouldn’t have been included. Because Eleanor is then completely not fine, and despite that being a theme – this puts her in the territory of needing more help than she was getting. There were also large continuity problems with Eleanor’s quirks of character, and they would pull you out of the story because whatever had been said just didn’t quite fit with something she had mentioned before. The pace was also grating by the end – I’m not a fan of big events being alluded to for an entire novel, especially when enough information has preceeded it that we can guess what happened anyway. It was also very repetitive in trying to make the readers understand how Eleanor felt – we got it.

My main problem was that the storyline itself was ridiculous, and I felt out of character for Eleanor. It bordered on being creepy and wrong, the setup was also weird for Eleanor – she didn’t date. So, that really bugged me. I almost rolled my eyes when that part of the story progression came up, and rushed through that chapter to get back to the good stuff.

Let me be clear, there was a lot of good stuff. I literally laughed aloud to some parts, I delighted in reading so many passages, and I actually cried more than once. That’s some extreme emotions from me, and for a writer to pull all of them out, it was a great read. She kept in character the whole time – really difficult with the type of person Eleanor is. Fantastic writing skills and depth of emotion displayed.

Raymond, Sammy, Laura – all really well thought-out and amazing characters for Eleanor to meet. Raymond especially is just someone you wish you had in your life.

The theme of loneliness was deeply explored, and almost explained the macro story… not to my liking though. And it is a timely topic, one that people forget about, don’t want to talk about, and the effects of extreme loneliness are horrible. I think we’ve all known someone like Eleanor, or been the person like Eleanor – and this made me pause and consider all those scenarios, and the different way we react to people like that.

Despite being completely unexplained, Eleanor doesn’t do technology right down to a phone, or it seems like television either – although she does apparently watch some. Her descriptions of popular culture are hilarious, some of the greatest parts of the story involved her describing well-known shows or music without ever mentioning the real name. But – completely unexplained, there is no reason given for this at all. One of those other grating bits.

Finally, and completely a personal annoyance – I find it to be very lazy writing and a little self-indulgent when authors use their favourite classic to draw parallels in their own writing. An entire section used the names of Jane Eyre characters – it was her social services report, and it used Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst. Just come up with your own names!! The author then went on to say how much her character loved the novel Jane Eyre… no, the author loves that book and wants to reference herself to look like a classical reader. Where was the editor saying no to these ludicrous inclusions! The author also has said in interviews that Jane Eyre was one of her inspirations for Eleanor, this makes me feel like, even though she had read this amazing classical literature – she didn’t take in the character of Jane at all – because Jane is nothing like Eleanor. I adore Jane Eyre, and this left a really sour taste in my mouth. Eleanor is a unique and wonderful character in her own right – and an editor should have told the author that she didn’t need any comparisons in that way.

So – a lot to love, and a lot to hate. I don’t even know what genre to fit it in – but it was an excellent read, and to have brought out such fierce emotions from me, I know it was good. Easy read, would recommend to anyone due to it’s genre crossovers.

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Manhattan Beach

Manhattan BeachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an amazing style of writing Egan has – I was enthralled from the first couple of pages.
“The specter of that slap still haunted Anna, with the odd effect of heightening her boldness, in defiance of it.” – Just a brilliant and succinct way of phrasing ideas, I loved reading every word.

Anna was introduced early, and I immediately liked her strength of character that was portrayed as strong but not in an overdone way. Her father was also interesting, and his character grew more interesting as the story continued.

The easy way the author has woven together all the characters was fantastic – even the fate of Anna’s mother was thought out, and fit exactly right. The inner workings of Dexter Styles was fascinating through to the end. The age difference between Anna and Dexter played a little on my mind, however not enough for it to spoil the chemistry between the two of them. It was a shame their story didn’t have a different ending.

Brianne was the real hero of the book in my eyes – we all need a Brianne in our lives, and her part was written exactly right.

I got a little bored in the middle – all the diving was so amazing, and the author’s description of the characters made them all so easy to relate to and see as a group. There was something that just wasn’t quite right with the pacing through some of the book, and despite it all being interesting and wonderful to read – I became a little bit uncaring of what would happen next. I guess it was a little predictable in a way that wasn’t made up for quite enough by the writing style throughout those passages.

Very enjoyable read.

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The Trauma Cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and DisasterThe Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have two reactions to this story – the first being totally in awe of Sandra. Her amazing understanding and depth of compassion for everyone she meets, her incredible life-story, and her strength are just astounding to read about. The jobs she takes on, the people she meets and helps through her work – all so interesting. I would have loved to read about a meth lad clean-up, and also the mechanics behind her police contracts for her services, but the details of the jobs in the book were fascinating.

The second reaction I have is to the writing itself, which I found frustrating and difficult to read at times. A lot of terrible similes, and a lot of excuses for behaviour Sandra exhibited that didn’t fit with the author’s golden view of her subject. The worst one I can remember, involved Sandra standing in a room on a job, and being compared to one of Monet’s golden haystacks in her beauty – there were just so many comments like this.
At the beginning the author says that this is her version of a love letter for Sandra – and that made it easier to read those passages, and obviously Sandra is such a wonderfully complex person it was worth reading anyway.

A great story. I’m happy that there are people out there like Sandra who will take on these jobs, and bring the people who need help in that way a human response to their troubles.

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