I feel that recommendations are very personal. When cornered I will offer up a plethora of random titles, usually of books I have recently read or am in the process of completing and then I eventually guide the inquisitor to this blog. My take on the matter is clear; I cannot assume to know you, really know you, enough to know what book you will like. I can tell you about the books I have been reading and maybe, just maybe, we can presume we are that bit closer thanks to the common ground of having read the same book regardless of how we end up reviewing the experience. I liken this to a hotel bed. Just because at random times we happened to occupy the same bed in the same hotel does not automatically mean we have similar tastes or personalities. Same room, different people, different circumstances.
I cannot count the times when someone has come up to me and said 'You will REA-LLY like/hate this book' only to find myself questioning why that person would think so when I clearly find the experience in contrast to theirs at the end of it? Did that person recommend it because they thought I was shallow, boring, deep, funny, not clever enough, neurotic or am I plainly over analysing and they thought I would simply like/hate the book?
Having said that, once in a while there comes that recommendation that makes me grateful not everyone thinks like I do. Instances that force me to reconsider my take on this subject. Such an occasion arose a few weeks ago when 'In Search of the Missing Eyelash' by Karen McLeod was handed to me by a friend who did the loathsome 'you will love this' act. Still hesitant, I did finally take it but only after she pointed out that the author herself was in the same bookshop where we were all gathered for a mutual friend's book signing.
From the outset, 'In Search of the Missing Eyelash' declares itself in a league of its own. I dare anyone to read the first sentence and be able to put the book down. Seriously, I dare you! It has become the #1 sentence on my list of most memorable beginnings of modern times. Karen McLeod hooks you so violently and unashamedly not letting go right until the end when she leaves you emotionally spent and only then does she reluctantly let go because the issues she deals with in her novel (gender, loneliness, self image, abandonment and love) will carry long after you've finished reading this mere 193-page book.
The novel is about Lizzie, a lonely depressed young woman who has just been dumped by the love of her life, Sally, for a man. Lizzie suffers from abandonment issues that date from way back when. Everyone she loves leaves: her parents, her brother, her lover even her body which seems to have morphed into one she no longer recognizes. Her best friend, Petula, egocentric and completely self-obsessed with the various men in and out of her life, is hardly the shoulder for Lizzie to cry on. So, alone and desperate Lizzie comes to the conclusion that only two things will ever make her happy again: finding her brother Simon, also known as Amanda, and getting Sally back.
And so Lizzie turns part time detective trying to piece together the whereabouts of Simon and her mum, and part time stalker, hoping to be there to pick up the pieces when eventually Sally's relationship with Fat Neck breaks up. A quest which sees her on an insane dash to Brighton where it all goes horribly wrong. Lizzie's juvenile interpretation of love is so touching and yet so disillusioned that you want to yank her out of the book, shake her hard to set her brain straight and then engulf her in one big hug to show her that there ARE those who care. You are willing the author to make it alright for Lizzie, to give her a damn break but all the while more and more complications arise trapping Lizzie (and the reader at times) into an air-tight, even claustrophobic, bubble. It is when the bubble finally does burst and the clean-up begins that the true intelligence and craftsmanship of the author are at their best.
This novel may not be a literary masterpiece or every person's cup of tea and I admit there are bits that I found dragged on. At one point (mainly one) Lizzie's soul searching resembled repetitive moaning and she becomes slightly irksome yet for the oddest reasons you cannot bring yourself to give up on her. I found this an extremely well-written, tight and emotional book. I am willing to break my own rule for this book and say that if I were to recommend a good read for summer, this book would be the one.
By the end of the evening I mentioned in the beginning I did get to exchange a few words with Karen McLeod. I found her to be a genuine charmer all twinkling eyes, totally disarming with her flamboyant manner and red lipstick. It is very hard not to like her. Based on what I've read on her website in addition to leading an extremely delicious life she is working on her next novel which I can't wait to get my hands on.