During my years as a business co-owner and continent-crossing teacher of quilting, consuming fiction was a luxury only intermittently enjoyed. I probably managed only a dozen or so novels a year, reading them during air travel before Internet access on airplanes made working possible any place, any time.
Now that I’m retired from Fons & Porter and pursuing my encore career as a novelist, I have not only time to read but also a responsibility to know what’s being published these days—which writers are winning those prizes (Booker, National, Costa, etc.) and what titles are getting on those lists (New York Times, Good Reads, Barnes & Noble, etc.). I’m loving catching up, literarily speaking.
During early chapters of ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE (Gail Honeyman, May 2017), I thought, “This is so predictable,” and I’m happy to report I was dead right about two important plot elements. That said, Honeyman charmed me completely, proving it’s not always the story, but the way it’s told, that satisfies. I was pulling for Eleanor throughout. If you like rooting for an antiheroine, novels set in places other than America (like Glasgow), and can handle fictional pain, you’ll like ELEANOR OLIPHANT, in pre-production for a film release in 2019.
The day after I closed ELEANOR OLIPHANT, I opened LIFE AFTER LIFE (Kate Atkinson, January 2014), the favorite novel by the favorite author of one of my favorite writer friends. Now I understand my friend’s position.
To say Atkinson is a fantastic writer is an understatement. Though I was totally immersed in the ongoing (and restarting) life of protagonist Ursula Todd, I could feel the presence of Atkinson as she so very, very deftly experimented with the “what-could-happen-next?” element of crafting a story. I felt her presence, yet I can’t say she intruded.
The first thing anyone who’s read LIFE AFTER LIFE is likely to mention is the book’s unusual structure, as Ursula Todd’s life starts and ends again and again, sometimes after only a few pages, sometimes after many. What makes this nontraditional structure work is Atkinson’s solid and brilliant narrative style. Each time we must take a flying leap in fictional time, the spot we land on is in the traditional English world of a traditional English family with its gardens, tea trays, and faithful dogs.
Now that I’ve started my own second manuscript, writing and researching each day, I may not be able to maintain the novel-a-week reading life I enjoyed during the months I spent acquiring my agent, but I can’t see myself isolated from other fiction the way I was the years I toiled on MY LIFE WITH SHELLEY. I’m a different kind of literary citizen nowadays. Stay tuned for future reviews.