Published in Spring 2017, this book very quickly had a lot of talk surrounding it. Everywhere I went someone had read it and was singing its praises. So I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
If you haven’t read the book, then it may seem an interesting choice for a counselling blog or magazine to review. However, this book looks at some really important and sometimes less discussed mental health topics.
The first thing I noticed about the book is how relatable I found the main character to be. Those who have read the book may be surprised by this, but hear me out!
I am someone who enjoys routine. While I haven’t always wanted to admit this, worrying that it made me seem ‘boring’ or ‘old before my time’, I have now accepted that a routine is important for me. It helps me feel grounded and allows me to be productive. If I know what to expect from my week, I can then plan when I will get certain bits of work done, when I can see friends, when I can expect to have some down time, etc. Of course, life is such that we cannot possibly plan for everything and things will change, and that’s fine. We need this too - balance is key after all.
'For anyone reading the book who is finding they actually relate to Eleanor more than they’d like when it comes to social isolation, the book may provide some comfort and also hope.'
Eleanor’s behaviour when we first meet her is taking the idea of routine to the extreme. Eating exactly the same dinner every night for years, having the same lunch break routine, having the exact same weekend plans week in, week out. However, when I’ve been at my busiest, most stressed or burnt out, I have craved the idea of coming home, making a simple dinner and listening to a radio 4 drama!
A major theme of the book is loneliness. Eleanor is isolated and doesn’t really know what it is to have friends. Her loneliness is palpable and would make even the most cynical of readers feel grateful for the social support they may have.
For anyone reading the book who is finding they actually relate to Eleanor more than they’d like to when it comes to social isolation, the book may provide some comfort and also hope.
Something I think the author writes about beautifully is some of the social interactions between Eleanor and members of the public. The misunderstandings and social norms not being followed cause the reader to both cringe and laugh out loud at the same time. But it speaks to a more serious subject. Some of the interactions could feel familiar to some people, perhaps due to social anxiety, being on the autism spectrum, or for any number of other factors. It reminds the reader the importance of showing patience, empathy and love to people we come into contact with day to day as we never know their stories. Interestingly, Eleanor too reaches this conclusion near the end of the book. This was a really heart warming moment for me as we realise how far she’s come, in many different ways.
On the whole I really liked how therapy was depicted in this book. In a review of how therapists were portrayed in films (cited in Brown, S. 2018), Dr Otto Wahl found that the therapist characters would often engage in ‘a lot of unethical behaviour’ and generally were not portrayed in a way that accurately showed how therapy is. Therefore any fiction that manages to portray therapy responsibly and accurately is always a positive thing in my opinion.
I recently read an interview with the author, Gail Honeyman, which I really enjoyed and as a result made me love the book even more!
I have really enjoyed writing this book review and it has reminded me how good for the soul being part of a book group can be. If you love reading and when you finish a book, all you want to do is talk to someone who has also read it so you can discuss your thoughts, then why not join a book club! There are some great ones around including these you can join in London. It can be a great way to get out of the house, meet new people and you often end up reading books you never would have normally picked up - and often falling in love with them!
While I really enjoyed the book, it does cover many serious topics and if you have read it and it has made you think you might like to talk to someone then why not, as Eleanor did, contact a Counsellor.
Laura Golding, who loves to read, is an Integrative Counsellor, registered with the BACP. She has a private practice in South West London, seeing clients in Clapham, and Tooting.
Laura works with adults and has special interests in workplace stress.
Brown, S. 2018 ‘Strictly Therapy?’ Therapy Today Vol 29 Issue 1 p10