A Place For Us - Harriet Evans

RATING: ★★☆☆☆

It seems like authors these days are experimenting more and more with switching point of views in the story. I think it's fair to say that that's what made Jodi Picoult famous. Unfortunately, not all writers are necessarily good at juggling so many point of views and some stories really would benefit from being more simple in their narrative.


One of them is A Place for Us Part 1; a book by Harriet Evans, someone who is known by many and a book I read before the July 31 release date.

(Btw, it is very clearly "Part 1": I did not read a whole story, just the beginning of it. So my review might be slightly off, but the publishers chose to give reviewers just the part one so I'll work with it.)

A Place for Us is about the Winter family and a big announcement that Martha Winter, the matriarch of the family, will make at a party. What is the announcement? The whole family thinks they know, but the reader definitely doesn't. We are told that the announcement will tear the family apart, so that keeps the suspense going. The book follows each characters as they either write the invitation, hear about the invitation or receive the invitation to the party. The announcement is what ties together family members who haven't been that close in the past.

The book starts with the point of view of Martha and then switches to her husband, all of her children, some grandchildren, some husbands and wives,.... Long story short: EVERYONE gets a chapter with their own point of view in it. Which made this book an exhausting read. Not only do you have to keep track of who is talking now and how they fit into the family tree (a drawing of this at the beginning of the book would have been extremely useful btw), but you also don't get the time to connect to one of the characters. When you finally get into the head of one of them, you switch to another character and don't return to the one you liked for a good 5 to 6 chapters. That's too long. I respect the need as an author to tell the story from different points of view, but I really wish she would have just picked three at the most. 

Added to that, there is a time jump at some point in the story - we suddenly see one of the children in an earlier time. I am all for time jumps and it was useful in this particular book, because all the family members talked about how one of the children suddenly "just left and never came back". It's good to find out a little bit about why they left. But add that to the constant switching of point of view and you have one very confused reader.

The point of views (yes, I know I'm rambling on about it, but it is the main device of this story) also caused the book to be slow. Especially the start. We meet all the characters in their own chapters and we get loooong descriptions about who they are and why they are like that. Not a lot of action, but a lot of description. It just didn't hook me into the story like I would have wanted to. For example, Mr. Winter is in a café in London to meet someone. When he actually meets that person, it becomes very interesting (and a spoiler), but we first have pages and pages of him thinking back about the war and how he made drawings of the war and how he suffered. It's interesting, but I would have loved for these elements to have been dispensed throughout the story, not just cramped into chapter two all together. Show me what he's like, don't just tell me.

Is it all bad? No, it isn't. There is some lovely description in there about London, which made this London-lover excited to move back there. The characters are also realistic and filled with potential: each of them would be a good candidate to be the real main character of the story. And the announcement! I still don't know what it is, but the clues you get throughout the story definitely make you very curious to read part II.

This book could have been amazing if the author would have stuck with one of the characters. I would have loved to have learned more about Florence, the daughter who lives in Florence (this is not a typo), teaches Art History and is madly in love with the biggest prick out there. How did an English country girl get into that situation? I'll never know. 

Sometimes less really is more.


A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride


I have an obsession with novels that explore the relationship between siblings. In my opinion, it is one of the most interesting and most unexplored relationships as most authors focus on romantic relationships or the famous “Daddy-daughter issues”.

However, Eimear McBride threw herself right into the complexity of family bounds with her debut novel A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing.

The plot is fairly straightforward – it’s the inner narrative of a young girl who has a brother with a brain tumor and a complicated relationship with the rest of her family. The girl, who is never named in the novel due to the use of the “I”-voice, struggles with seeing her brother suffer from a brain tumor. He is slower than the other boys and gets teased quite a lot. She is torn between trying to help him and trying to help herself. This inner conflict leads her into some pretty unhealthy situations that she tries to use to lose herself.

The main thing that needs to be discussed about this book is the writing style, since it has been the most remarkable style I’ve ever read. There is no real way to describe it, so I think some excerpts (spoiler-free!) are the best way to show it.

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round. Wait and hour and day.

_I met a man. I met a man. I let him throw me round the bed. And smoked, me, spliffs and chocked my neck until I said I was dead. _

It is not an easy writing style to read and it took me about fifty pages to get used to it, but once I was, the book became one of the most emotionally grabbing books I’ve ever read. There are certain scenes that portray very serious situations and by being inside the girl’s head, by really hearing her voice instead of a generic authorial voice, the scenes became even more emotional. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but halfway through the book, there was a moment I almost cried on the tube. (Can you imagine? The coldhearted, don’t show any emotion tube – the horror!)

However, every pro has its con and I felt like I missed out on a lot of the story by this narrative. There were too many questions unanswered for me – like what exactly was wrong with her brother? Who is her mother and what is her story? The one sided storytelling allowed for amazing connection with the girl, but I still have so many questions left.

However, the originality of the style and the plot twists (seriously, I know I can’t spoil it so just trust me on this one and read it) make up for it. And maybe leaving this unanswered was exactly the point of the story, because that is life. We only know our own story and we are left guessing about what other people feel and think. A reader walks away from this book with the normal sense of fulfillment, but an even stronger sense of loss. Loss for this girl. Loss for the family. And loss for the questions that will never be answered. And to create that, someone has to be a really talented writer.