Altogether moving: Together by Juliet Cohen

On a seemingly ordinary morning, eighty year old Robbie leaves his partner Emily, sleeping in bed, changes his clothes, feeds their dogs then does something that will completely shatter Emily’s world. ‘Together’, begins on this day, the last day of Robbie’s life, and slowly tells Robbie and Emily’s story backwards, from 2016 back to 1962. As Cohen unfolds their story, Robbie’s motives for his actions that morning slowly become clearer as a secret emerges which even their beloved son can never know, and which the couple have spent their lives running from.

A warning though, ‘Together’ requires a constant stash of Kleenex from page one. In the first part of this story Robbie and Emily are celebrating 43 love filled years together along with their beloved son and grandchildren in Maine. They have been grounded and highly successful in their professional lives – Emily as a doctor and Robbie as a boat builder- but with Robbie showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, it is clear that their time together is drawing to a close. From then on, Cohen takes us back to each integral moment in the couple’s relationship, from their meeting, to their decision to very much sacrifice everything to be together, to the final big reveal that will leave you stunned, rapt, and thanks to Julie Cohen’s beautiful writing, ultimately moved.

‘Together’ is frequently being referred to as a love story, but Cohen’s gift for brilliant characterization and unique story telling make this so much more. If you love David Nicholls ‘One Day’ or Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ this compelling and unpredictable story is an ideal match for you.

Like Em and Dex in David Nicholls ‘One Day’, Robbie and Emily are complex, fun and vivid characters that are a joy to read about. Readers very much love and invest in them from page one.
Cohen’s understated yet passionate and moving writing very much helps to create this, and while some may find the reversed timeline a little difficult to get their head around at first, this unique structure works perfectly for Cohen’s story. The narrative is well thought out and I found myself going back and rereading passages again, immersing myself in the couple’s memories and story more and more, as moments seemed to take on whole new meanings.

Robbie and Emily have stayed in my mind for days since reading this beautiful novel. I loved every moment of my time with them and was left wanting more. Beautifully written, thought provoking, and clever in so many ways, ‘Together’ is a book that will leave you gripped from start to finish. Just remember to grab that stash of Kleenex and put aside a solid day to get through this wonderful novel because trust me, once you start you won’t be putting this down.

Together
by Julie Cohen
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409171744

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman’s brilliant debut novel features one of the most quirky and utterly original heroines you are likely to meet – Eleanor Oliphant, a quiet, socially inept office worker who ‘survives’ each day.

Cover of Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine

Unpitying and unambitious, Eleanor struggles with a past she can hardly bear to remember and which readers come to learn more of as the story unfolds. Eleanor is ‘completely fine’ simply because she has to be. She lives by the same carefully scheduled timetable each week of lunchtime meal deals, visits to the grocer for two bottles of vodka, and Wednesday talks with her vindictive ‘mummy’ until, one day, she meets Raymond, a clumsy, ‘unhygenic’ IT man from work. When the two rescue an elderly man who has collapsed on the side walk, an unlikely friendship begins to form between them, the type of friendship capable of showing Eleanor it is never too late to reclaim your life and allow yourself to be happy again.

Simultaneously, Eleanor finds ‘the love of her life’, an arrogant rock star who she concedes she hasn’t met just yet, leading to some hilarious ‘encounters’. There is a great passage where Eleanor glimpses him in Tesco’s and feels she must give him the benefit of her shopping wisdom via her sole means of communication, Twitter:

@eloliph
A Tesco Club Card is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You should DEFINITELY sign up for one. A concerned friend xx

@johnnieLrocks
Tesco: stop pushing Big Brother spy-slash-loyalty card on here. It like living in a police state, yo #hungover #leavemealone #fightthepower

As ever, Eleanor remains touchingly oblivious. She is brutally honest herself, ‘helpfully’ telling people things they should not be doing and becoming stunned by ‘how rude’ they can be when they do not respond. She has lacked social contact for so long, that lack of knowledge rather than rudeness seems to be the cause of her faux pas.

Gail Honeyman has created a very remarkable character in Eleanor Oliphant. I loved the sensitivity with which Honeyman handled her past. It is impossible not to be moved by Eleanor’s observation that:

“When you read about ‘monsters, house hold names… you forget they had families. They don’t just spring from nowhere. You never think about the people that are left behind to deal with the aftermath of it all”

Or by moments such as when Eleanor, moved to tears, thanks Laura the hairdresser for making her ‘shiny’. Perhaps the part I loved most about this book though was the sheer warmth and ultimately, hope in Eleanor’s story. Her story is full of touching as well as hillarious moments which give a huge lift to the otherwise very distressing theme of crippling loneliness. There is a lovely scene where Raymond brings the convalescing Eleanor a Spongebob helium balloon:

“He passes me the ribbon, and the balloon soared towards my low ceiling, then bobbed against it as though it was trying to escape.
‘What is it supposed to be?” I said. “Is it cheese?” I had never been given a helium balloon before, and certainly not one this odd looking.
“It’s Spongebob, Eleanor,” he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “Spongebob Squarepants?”
A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

I haven’t fallen in love so much with both a book and its narrator for a long time and happily give this brilliant novel a ten out of ten. If you’re looking for a witty, sensitive, uplifting read which perfectly captures the best and worst that life can offer, this wonderful book is a perfect choice for you.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by Harper Collins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008172121

Helen,
Central Library Peterborough