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This book has been receiving all sorts of accolades and applause, and after reading it, I can absolutely see why.

The story is told from the point of view of Eleanor Oliphant, a 30 year old accounting clerk who leads a regimented and lonely life. She goes to work in the week, where she doesn’t mix with her colleagues at all. Her weekends are spent in her flat, on her own, with two bottles of vodka for company. Eleanor’s only interaction with anyone else is her weekly conversation with  her mother, with whom there is a clearly a difficult relationship (and more about it is drip-fed throughout the book). Her life starts to change when she and a colleague help an old man who collapses in the street, and she is forced to interact with others and navigate her way through a world that is alien to her.

I’m not really sure what I expected from this book, but I absolutely loved it. The writing is fantastic and flows so well, balancing humour (and some of Eleanor’s thoughts and interactions are hilarious and simultaneously cringeworthy) and extreme sadness. Eleanor is literally to the nth degree and while she is clearly intellectually clever, she has no idea of how to behave in a social setting. (For example, upon learning that it is customary to take alcohol to a party, she takes a half empty bottle of vodka as a birthday present to someone, along with a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that men always love cheese.)

The ending contained one last surprise which I was not expecting, and which wrapped the story up beautifully That said, I would like to know more of what happened to Eleanor after the end of the book, but at the same time, this book was so perfect that a sequel just isn’t needed.

I highly, highly recommend this book – it will make you smile, it will make you laugh, it might make you cry and it will definitely make you think.

 

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This is the second adaptation of Virginia Andrews book of the same name (the first being made in 1987).  I read the book many years ago, although it is on my list to read again.  This particular version was made for the Lifetime channel, and while it was not brilliant, it was certainly watchable, and more or less faithful to the book.

The Dollanganger family have an idyllic life, until their father dies in a car crash, at which point their mother Corrine (Heather Graham) takes them to live with her Grandmother (Ellen Burstyn).  To their shock, the children are expected to live in the attic, and are never permitted to leave.  Their mother explains that after a fall-out with her parents years before, she is trying to win back her sick father’s affection, so that he will change his will and leave all of his money to her.  However, her father must never learn that she has children, because if he does he will never leave his inheritance to Corrine.  The children are told that their situation will be temporary, but they end up spending years in the attic, with their mother all but forgetting them.  Their grandmother resents their very existence and treats them cruelly, and Cathy and Christopher must find a way for them to survive.

Kiernan Shipka, better known as Sally Draper from Mad Men, plays Cathy, and Mason Dye plays Christopher.  The younger children, twins Carrie and Cory are played by Ava Telek and Maxwell Kovach.  Shipka is a wonderful young actress, and I really liked her performance.  She really has potential for a great career (I love her in Mad Men too).  Mason Dye was also very good, and Ellen Burstyn was fantastic – rarely do I wish for a horrible and painful ending for a character, but in the Grandmother’s case, I will make an exception.  The weak link in the cast was Heather Graham, who unfortunately was unconvincing as Corrine.  She looks perfect for the part, but was badly cast, and seemed wooden.

The story was compelling however, if not altogether pleasant to watch – anyone who has read the book will know this already, but honestly, things just keep getting worse and worse for the children, and Cathy and Chris end up finding a terrible way of coping with their new life.  There were a few things that could have been done better – for instance, throughout all of his time in the attic, where they have no access to any kind of hairdresser, Christopher’s hair didn’t grow at all and always looked immaculate!

The ending is somewhat abrupt, but that is understandable, as the book, and this film, are the first in a series.  An adaptation of the second book in the series, Petals in the Wind, is currently being made, and I look forward to watching it, although I would hope that the part of Corrine is re-cast.

Despite the slight niggles I have with this film, it was worth watching, and I would probably recommend it, especially to those who have read the book and are familiar with the story.

Year of release: 2014

Director: Deborah Chow

Producers: Lisa Hamilton, Merideth Finn, Charles W. Fries, Harvey Kahn, Tanya Lopez, Rob Sharenow, Michele Weiss, Damian Ganczewski

Writers: Virginia C. Andrews (novel), Kayla Alpert

Main cast: Kiernan Shipka, Mason Tye, Ava Telek, Maxwell Kovach, Ellen Burstyn, Heather Graham

 

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Micka is a 10 year old boy, who has a hard life to say the least.  His mother can’t be bothered with looking after him, and takes no interest in his education, his father is nowhere to be seen, and at least one of his two older brothers is frequently in prison and physically abuses Micka when he’s at home.

He soon becomes friends with Laurie, a new boy at his school.  Laurie may come from a better background, but his parents are splitting up, and while his mother behaves irrationally, his father is emotionally distant.

Laurie has a vivid imagination, and dreams of cruelty and magic, and as Micka is pulled into his world, the lines between fact and fiction become blurred until both boys find themselves on a seemingly inevitable course towards a horrifying conclusion…

This book was amazingly well written.  It is narrated by Micka and Laurie in turn; in the proof copy I read, each narrator is distinguished by a different font.  However, the difference between the language which the two boys used also distinguished them from each other.

It is certainly a disturbing book to read, which was expected as the book was apparently informed by the Mary Bell and Jamie Bulger cases.  Before we even get to the troubling ending of the story, there are descriptions of physical abuse in the home and cruelty to animals.  However, one of the hardest parts to stomach was the reasoning behind the boys’ actions.

I thought the characterisation of the two boys was excellent.  Micka seemed like an innocent child stranded in a violent world, whereas Laurie was by far the colder and more calculating of the two.

Overall, this is a quick read, but certainly one that will linger in the memory.  Highly recommended – but perhaps not for readers of a nervous disposition.

 

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