So there is a long, longlist of 150 books and the only way to whittle this down is to vote. There are some requirements of course, but your biggest problem is going to be only choosing 2 books! Get reading!
Here are my favourites …
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan published by William Morrow
A beautiful meandering, twirling Viennese waltz through not only the end of the life of Anthony Peardew, but of the people who have lost ‘things’. The elegant prose introduces us to characters struggling with the enduring pain of personal loss, the yearning to overcome that loss, the dignified, delicate and humble manner by which it is sought. The author has created a garden of delights out of death, divorce and disaster.
Anthony lives every day with the ghost of Therese, the woman who should have become his wife – his beautiful rose garden his promise to Therese, a compensatory move to assuage the pain of losing his precious trinket on the day she died. His housekeeper Laura is pained by a disappointing life, but secretly admires Freddy the unreachable gardener. They in turn are beautifully assaulted by the friendship of Sunshine, and together with them, the reader is woven into this story where all characters are intertwined.
Anthony collects lost things and meticulously catalogues them and places them on a shelf in his study, hoping one day, unlike his own precious trinket, they can somehow be reunited with their owners. Laura and Freddy are the ones who eventually take up this mantle and this story is about taking the time to see those items. The reader starts this journey with Anthony and an urn of ashes he has found on a train …
Both book design and story are classically elegant. To be enjoyed with a pot of tea and shortbread – expect a stroll through time and troubles, laughter and longing. Heart warming and enchanting, I highly recommend The Keeper of Lost Things.
Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney published by St Martin’s Press
Sassy Lillian Boxfish hasn’t worked for R. H. Macy in 25 years but she still loves New York and the life it breathes into her. Elegant, possibly ever so slightly eccentric, she sets off on a before-dinner walk to work up a new appetite after unconsciously consuming an entire packet of Oreo’s whilst on the phone to her son. We’ve all been there! In fact Oreo’s crop up several times as the devil’s own work, and this firmly roots Ms Boxfish in the present day setting of 1984.
The walk takes us on a trip down memory lane, to the New York of the 1930s, a different era, a different world. Told in Lillian’s own voice this narrative of an ageing and beautiful retro-perspective is written beautifully and eloquently with the ease of injection of colour and textures, but mostly people and the New York community.
Ingenius phrasing, golden nuggets of insightfulness, it’s easy to conjur Lillian and I for one adore her. Truly beautiful literary fiction.
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt published by Atlantic Monthly Press
In the nineteenth century there was a new attitude towards bloody murder and its punishment both in Great Britain, and across the pond. Set in Fall River, Massachusetts, this true story of the axe murders of Andrew and Abby Borden woven through with fictional and speculative family life, brings all the media entertainment of murder, and all its bloody brutal makings to the fore. With very little in the way of police or detectives, the place of a murder was not a crime scene that we think of today –nothing was left untouched or preserved for investigation. By stark contrast to today’s attitude, tours of the house or place of the murder including footsteps through any blood were in fact commonplace. So with this picture of the nineteenth century in mind, the reader is introduced to Lizzie Borden on 4th August 1892, spattered in blood, disorientated, and calling for help because
“Someone has killed Father!”
My overwhelming emotion about reading this book is awe: The eloquent simplicity of the chapters,the delivery of the underlying disturbing atmosphere, the subtle inference of psychotic behaviour and the tangled mess of a dysfunctional family.
We are separately introduced to Lizzie, Emma, Bridget and Benjamin in subsequent chapters. Woven throughout are the personalities of Abby (Mrs Borden), Andrew (Mr Borden), and John (Lizzie’s Uncle), although they are all inextricably intertwined. The reader hits the ground running –the opening bloody murder scene, and the ineptitude, ignorance, and the innocence of nineteenth century police. In a century when visiting a murder scene was, for the people, much like watching soap operas is for society today, the ensuing drama in inevitable. The author rather cleverly takes us not just back in time to the day before the murders, but to a young Lizzie, to a time of a living mother, and to the trauma of losing her. As the book is set in the moment or the day of 4th August 1892, it is a shrewd author who can develop their characters through flashbacks and recollections.
In 1892, Lizzie Borden is 32 years old. Everything is ‘rotten’ – the family relationships, the food (a continuous rank bubbling mutton broth), the fruit (the rotten pears they all devour), and their love. The varying descriptions of this give the reader the overwhelming eerie and sickening setting, not just within the Borden home, but of American society in the nineteenth century. Despite this however, the story is set in a kind of bubble, which for this type of focus, is adequate and synonymous with Lizzie’s inferred ‘fugue state’.
This is a compelling, atmospheric, and unequivocally sinister tale, and one to dive right into.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman published by Harper Collins
Gail Honeyman seems to have written the realistic journal of a 30something single woman who has had various life trauma, getting through a regular life. Beset by a lack of desire for conformity, Eleanor finds the exhibition of social norms something to be gained from human camouflage. So she begins by researching how to camouflage herself in beauty and celebrity magazines.
The thoughts and movements of Eleanor are painful. She has lived her life through the care system, the daughter of a woman dubbed notoriously as the “face of evil”. She never has visitors other than the social worker and the person who reads the utility meter. Eleanor likes it that way. She’d experienced fantastical stories from her mentally ill mummy, who had home schooled her thereby filling her bubble with things not usual to the general public. It’s quite sad that to her school friends, a meal of shavings of truffles over buttered linguine seems weird and wrong compared to fish fingers and oven chips though. But that’s school children for you!
Loneliness is an invisible disease and changes your behaviour in too many ways. But what is normal? Eleanor notices too much. This is because she is fascinated by human behaviour – something she just isn’t familiar with. She is experiencing life too intensely, filling it with too much information, too much alcohol and too many daydreams about THE ONE, the One who would satisfy “mummy’s requirements” and make mummy adore her and get her mummy’s approval … finally.
So when Eleanor meets Raymond and together they save Sammy, things change for Eleanor, not least, at first, her carefully constructed routine.
There are funny observations of course: Things and ‘words of wisdom’ that mummy told her, new technology, pizza deliveries. But overall this is overwhelmingly sad. Cathleen McCarron does an excellent job and listening to this book certainly gave Eleanor a voice. This made it seem so much more real to me.
My 2 nominations are …
Vote #1 – Lilian Boxfish by Kathleen Rooney and …
Vote #2 – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
The Guardian need all votes before midnight on 7th August to announce the results on 8th August.
In the meantime … happy reading!