Posts Tagged ‘Gail Honeyman’

The Top 12 List of the Favorite Fiction I Have Read in 2020

 

This being the year of the lockdown, I had time to read a couple of lengthy doorstop novels (‘The Maias’ and ‘Life A User’s Manual’) just like I used to do before I began writing regular blog posts. Also this year I discovered that there was some amazing fiction from the past which I had missed previously.

Click on either the bold-faced title or the cover image to see my original review for each work.

 

The Maias’ By Eça de Queirós (1888) – ‘The Maias’ is a jaunty vastly pleasurable trip in mid-to-late 19th-century Lisbon, Portugal society with some lively quick-witted companions. Readers new to Eça de Queirós can start with the short novella ‘The Yellow Sofa’ to determine if you like his style of writing or not.

 

‘A Burning’ by Megha Majumdar (2020) – ‘A Burning’ is a vivid powerful novel which focuses on one of the major crises in our world today, racial hatred. ‘A Burning’ is a world-changer if enough people read it and take it to their minds and souls.

 

 

 

‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell (2020) – A most intense depiction of family life and death in the late 16th century. Imagine an entire novel about William Shakespeare that contains not one line from his plays or his sonnets.

 

 

 

‘Tyll’ by Daniel Kehlmann (2017) – ‘Tyll’ is a sometimes light, sometimes black comedy which entirely suits the Thirty Years War. This novel is fascinating at the sentence level, a real accomplishment for both the author and the translator. Daniel Kehlmann brings a smart playful quality to his fiction that makes his writing well nigh irresistible.

 

Missionaries’ by Phil Klay (2020) – ‘Missionaries’ is a novel about the United States’ never-ending, misbegotten wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, and now Yemen. It is most focused on the drug wars in Colombia. ‘Missionaries’ opened my eyes to what is really happening in this world. It is a novel that will change your entire worldview.

 

‘Woe From Wit’ by Alexander Griboedov (1823) – From the very first words in the prologue of this verse play in four acts you can tell that it is going to be sharp and special:

Fate’s a mischief making tease,

That’s her character in brief,

a fool is blissfully at his ease,

a man of spirit comes to grief.

 

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman (2017) – Someone could argue that the story in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is not very sophisticated. I do not see sophistication as a necessary or even desirable attribute of literature. Rather I see stating situations as simply and clearly as possible as one of the hallmarks of good literature, and that ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ does. Eleanor Oliphant’ is a poignant and affecting story.

 

‘Hurricane Season’ by Fernanda Melchor (2016) – ‘Hurricane Season’ is not for the squeamish or easily offended. The characters in this novel tell the truth about some very rough things. They are angry and the words they use are coarse and direct. Read ‘Hurricane Season’ if you are brave and honest enough to take it.

 

 

Other People’s Love Affairs’ by D. Wystan Owen (2018) – These eloquent stories go deeper into the circumstances and the psyches of their main characters than most stories do. People in them almost connect but not quite. This is a collection of short stories which will move you if you are willing to be moved.

 

‘Such a Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid (2020) – ‘Such a Fun Age’ is a novel with a light touch that captures the dialogue of people socializing, whether it be a group at a party or dinner or just two people alone. Rather than an individual character contemplating a problem or situation, we get the interplay of many voices. What this novel really excels in are exchanges between groups of young women, whether young mothers or young single women. Kiley Reid’s enthusiasm for her story rubs off on the reader.

 

Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain (2020) – ‘Indelicacy’ is a powerful novella about creativity. Can a woman who cleans toilets and mops floors for a living have strong ambitions to be a writer? ‘Indelicacy’ answers that question with a resounding “Yes”. ‘Indelicacy’ is a novel about the struggle to create. One gets the impression that Amina Cain carefully chose each precise word in this unusual novella ‘Indelicacy’. It is a work that captures you on a visceral level rather than an intellectual level, which is always a good thing.

 

‘Life A User’s Manual’ by Georges Perec (1978) – I just cannot leave this novel off my year’s best list even though at times I loathed, loathed it and at other times I loved, loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

Also this year I read two excellent works of non-fiction – ‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson and ‘Chronicles: Volume One’ by Bob Dylan.

 

 

 

 

My favorite collection of poems in 2020 is ‘Failing Heaven’ by Charles Behlen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman – The Reclamation of a Woman

 

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman (2017) – 325 pages

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ is a phenomenon. Why do I say this? The main gauge I use to determine a book’s popularity is the number of holds it has on it in the Hennepin County Library system. Hennepin County contains all of Minneapolis, Minnesota as well as many of its largest suburbs. The number of holds are the number of people who are waiting in line to check the book out. Currently ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ has 510 holds on 90 copies of the book. This is comparable to the number of holds there would be for a brand new novel by a famous author. Yet ‘Elizabeth Oliphant is Completely Fine’ is a first novel written way back in 2017. Only such phenomenons as ‘Gone Girl’ have these kind of numbers after three years. And best of all, ‘Elizabeth Oliphant’ qualifies as substantial literature.

The fictional character Eleanor Oliphant and I shared a similar problem. We were both standoffish. Both of us went about our business quite competently but avoided other people as much as possible. Eleanor had much better reasons for her standoffishness than I ever did. You will have to read the novel to find out her reasons. Eleanor has built a psychological wall around herself which effectively keeps most other people out. Eleanor has poor social skills and unrealistic expectations.

I had no one, and it was futile to wish it were otherwise. After all, it was no more than I deserved. And, really, I was fine, fine, fine.”

For me, I gave off these vibrations to others indicating that “If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me.” I kept myself at a distance from others as does Eleanor.

This is the story of a young woman awakening from her standoffish life.

Your voice changes when you’re smiling, it alters the sound somehow.”

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ is refreshing because it contains something you don’t find often in modern fiction, a good man. A good man is hard to find in modern novels or stories. At times like these, it is difficult to remember that there are still any decent people in the world. Raymond is a positive force in this novel.

I suppose someone could argue that the story in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is not very sophisticated. I do not see sophistication as a necessary or even desirable attribute of literature. Rather I see stating situations as simply and clearly as possible as one of the hallmarks of good literature, and that Eleanor Oliphant does.

‘Eleanor Oliphant’ is a poignant and affecting story.

 

Grade:   A+

 

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