Category: loneliness


ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins, 2017)

eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-original-imaeufdjggmjv38wIt pays to increase your word power. I remember seeing this slogan many moons ago in a newspaper advertisement promoting a distance learning course aimed at those who frequently feel tongue-tied or inarticulate in social situations.

The promise was that a wider vocabulary would lead to greater self-confidence and would provide a vital step towards overcoming feelings of inadequacy.

The premise sounds persuasive enough but, as the fictional character of the 30-year-old Eleanor Oliphant shows, it takes more than precise elocution and fancy wordplay to win friends and influence people.

If anything, these factors make Eleanor more alone as she’s universally viewed as a freak of nature. She’s a woman who has learned to live with her scars both imaginary and actual. Her condition is summarised in the extended epigraph to the novel taken from Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ which notes that “the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents”. Continue reading

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The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016).

lonelycity“When you have no-one, no-one can hurt you”. The bleak lyrics by Will Oldham from ‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ by Palace Brothers are hardly life affirming. Olivia Laing takes a more positive line from Dennis Wilson’s ‘Thoughts of You’ in which the Beach Boy sings how “Loneliness is a very special place”.

However, I doubt that many people equate loneliness with specialness. Most of the time it’s a condition that generates feelings of shame, self loathing and depression. The invisible cloak we wear is a burden rather than a protection.

The ‘adventures’ of Olivia Laing’s compassionate and insightful book nevertheless show how being alone can be, and has been,  the stimulus to greater self knowledge and the impetus towards personal creativity. Continue reading

ASK ME ASK ME ASK ME by Patrick Potter (Carpet Bombing Culture, 2017)

ask meI have no idea how this little gem of a book got to be stocked at the shop of Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art but I’m grateful for some employee’s initiative and vision.

Its subtitle is ‘Random questions for awesome conversations’ and that, together with some lively graphics, is exactly what you get.

The content recognizes the sad truism that the human race is rapidly losing the art of conversation. It promotes the notion that asking and answering questions is a step towards reviving this vital social skill.

The zombie-like addiction to screens of all shapes and sizes means that we risk forgetting the pleasures and perils of ‘real’ human interaction. Left unchecked, this will leave us increasingly technologically connected and physically isolated. Continue reading

WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING by Haruki Murakami (Vintage Books, 2009)

3031024When I first read this memoir about five years ago I was a casual jogger.

Picking it up again as I train for my first marathon, I see it now as a valuable mini-manual to get into the right physical and mental state.

You don’t have to be an amateur athlete or an aspiring writer to appreciate Murakami’s down to earth words of wisdom but it helps.

As a celebrated novelist, frequently tipped for the Nobel Prize for Literature, and a prolific marathon finisher, the Japanese writer and runner shares his experiences in a style that goes beyond the standard textbooks on both pursuits. Continue reading

ACADEMY STREET by Mary Costello (Canongate Books, 2014)
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Mary Costello’s bold and compassionate debut novel initially gives the impression it will be an uplifting life story of female empowerment.

It begins  in the 1940s and is set in Western Ireland. In this time and place we meet Tess, aged 8, immediately after the sudden death of her beloved mother.

The bewilderment and uncertainty this loss produces is brilliantly evoked as is the child’s difficult relationship with her harsh and uncommunicative father.

Surely things can only get better and with Angela’s Ashes in mind you envisage emigration from Ireland to America to be the harbinger of hope and good fortune. Continue reading

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