‘This Book Will Save Your Life’: Review (no, it isn’t self-help)

After reading a selection of classic books so far this summer (a lot of detective and dystopian fiction), I decided I wanted to read something a little more light hearted a few weeks ago. I have to admit: the doughnuts on the front cover were what first attracted me to it in Waterstones.

This is not a self-help book, as my friends and family initially thought when they saw me reading it. Having flown through this novel, I will definitely be purchasing some more of A.M. Homes’ work. In the story we follow Richard Novak, uber-isolated control freak, as he is forced to leave his personal bubble, and interact with the world outside. The only people he sees at the opening of this novel are his trainer, housekeeper, and nutritionist. Everything is planned out, in order, and perfect in a sterile sort of way. Until something completely unplanned happens: he ends up in hospital with an attack of severe and mysterious pain, that seems to have no traceable cause. This is actually where the novel opens, and knowing little about Richard or his life, the reader is pushed straight into this unpredictable plot line.

Not many books can actually make me laugh out loud in the middle of a coffee shop- this one did. Richard is pushed into several adventures, and it’s touching to see him form new- and fix old- relationships, most notably with his estranged son Ben. And if you’re wondering about the doughnuts: the first thing Richard does on leaving the hospital is go to a doughnut shop he has passed but never been in before. Here he meets Anhil for the first time. As the novel progresses he also meets and befriends a movie star, a desperate housewife, some technicians trying to fix the sink hole rapidly threatening to swallow his LA home, a collection of family members, some strangers in a silent retreat, a writer, and a horse. I’m trying not to say too much about how this novel plays out, because the situations Richard finds himself in, and that gradually force him to let go, are so brilliantly thought up that it would be a shame to ruin them. Each passing situation lead me to like our protagonist a little more, and I want you to have that same experience when you pick this up for the first time.

The one thing I wasn’t so sure about with this novel was the structure. Instead of being sectioned neatly into chapters, it’s divided into episodes, each taking up as little as a short paragraph, or as much as a few pages. The lack of a neatly divided structure has a lot to do with the theme of the book: that life can’t be neatly divided and contained, but is rather a series of episodes where things fall to pieces and then fall together again. All the same, it took me a while to get used to stopping after a paragraph, rather than a chapter. Ultimately, it did add to the book; I became more absorbed in what was happening, than trying to figure out how much more I had left to read before I felt I could stop for the night.

All in all, if you want a funny, touching, contemporary read this is one for you. I’m not usually a fan of contemporary novels, but this has won me over, and definitely has my stamp of approval.

 

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