Checking Out- Nick Spalding

I’ve reviewed a couple of Nick Spalding title before, and this review will be much the same. I didn’t actually know anything about this title before I started reading it- I hadn’t so much as read the blurb- but I knew how much I’d enjoyed Bricking It, and how interesting I found the ideas behind Mad Loveso I was happy to give it a go.  From the first few pages I was reminded of this author’s ability to make just about anything humorous.  I think it’s his frank, matter-of-fact way of phrasing that helps achieve this effect. Having sad this, it’s vital to point out that Spalding still manages to convey some incredibly important messages, in spite of- and perhaps thanks to- this comedy.

What’s really interesting about Checking Out is Spalding’s exploration of life under extreme circumstances, covering from self discovery to interpersonal relationships and just about everything inbetween. Nathan has just found out he’s going to die, which puts the entirety of his life into perspective and helps him to reconsider what’s important. He doesn’t know how long he has to live- it could happen at any moment- and this is what makes the narrative so great, especially because Nathan doesn’t necessarily take the most predictable route of completing everything he’s ever dreamed of. In fact, his extraordinary story is really quite ordinary- in some ways.

Not only does Nathan discover truths about himself, experiencing some of his most embarrassing moments in the period following his diagnosis, he also understands a little more about how others perceive him. What’s refreshing is that this is not simply a narrative about romantic love, and I’m not entirely sure Nathan’s relationship with Alison could necessarily be described as romantic, Spalding also covers Nathan’s relationship with his mother in light of his diagnosis, and it was these parts I found the most interesting and touching.

From embarrassing experiences with Donkey’s to an inability to stop saying potato, it’s fair to say that Nathan has some troubles throughout this narrative. However, what I think is most important is that he doesn’t allow his brain tumour to become the most troublesome, and uses it to help him live, rather than accepting his death.

Checking Out is fantastic for anyone looking for a book with the perfect balance of intelligent humour and important messages. This very same narrative could have easily been doom and gloom, but Spalding’s own personality and unique writing style saves it from this, which makes it accessible to just about anyone.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine- Gail Honeyman

I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, but university finals had made me feel guilty for reading anything that I wasn’t going to be examined on. In fact, I was so desperate for someone to read Honeyman’s debut novel that I bought it for a friend as a birthday gift- if I couldn’t read it, she would! I’d heard so much positive feedback about the book and I was certain I would love it.

I actually received my copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  as a birthday gift, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it. I was sure it would make my commute to and from work (I’m a real adult now!) just that little bit more bearable.

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment I opened the book, I found it difficult to put it down, urging the traffic jam to just last that little bit longer. Honeyman’s ability to craft characters struck me instantly and I was fully invested in who Eleanor Oliphant was and what she might become. In truth, it was definitely Honeyman’s character creation that kept me interested, as opposed to the narrative itself. I suppose you might argue that the two go hand in hand, but it was what might happen to the protagonist and how she was going to change that I was most interested in.

You might even say that Eleanor is the narrative. All the events, or lack thereof, are a part of her life, and create her life. There is an overwhelming sense of nothingness across the pages, which is really haunting, emphasised further through Eleanor’s lack of recognition that the way she lives her life is not normal. Because of this intense emptiness, it was impossible to guess where the book was going to end up. It was quite obvious that Eleanor was troubled, but I didn’t imagine that it would take such a dark turn.

However, what was most impressive was Honeyman’s ability to portray Eleanor’s experience this darkness with the same nonchalance and resignation as she did the rest of her life. At no point does Oliphant show a shadow of self pity,  which is what makes the novel so bittersweet. To see a character so accepting of what life throws at them is both beautiful and heart-wrenching.  The whole time I found myself wanting to grab her by the shoulders and tell her how amazing she is. At times she is bone-chillingly matter of fact, and apparently arrogant, but these qualities are entirely evened out when you have the insight of Eleanor’s internal dialogue and how she behaves and feels behind closed doors.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  is incredibly powerful, and made me think about all the Eleanors I’ve ever met in my life, though I didn’t really realise it until the end. So many people simply get through each day without really existing and, while it’s so easy to judge them, branding them eccentric or a little bit odd, it’s impossible to know how that person feels when they’re alone.  It all works out for Eleanor but, heartbreakingly, this isn’t the case for everyone in her situation.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  to anyone looking for a page-turner that makes you really care. If you’re looking for a book that makes you feel all the emotions, you’ll find it in this novel, and will probably be a more thoughtful person when you’re finished with it.

Extra tip: Read the interview with Honeyman at the end of the novel, it was incredibly interesting to see what inspired her to write this wonderful story.