Sunday, 4 June 2017

Book Review: Anything is possible - E. Strout

"And because he was Charlie, who years ago had fouled himself profoundly, because he was Charlie and not someone else, he could not say to his son: You are decent and strong, and none of this has anything to do with me; but you came through it, that childhood that wasn't all roses, and I'm proud of you, I'm amazed by you. Charlie could not even say a watered-down version of whatever that feeling would be. He could not even clap his son on the shoulder in greeting, or when saying goodbye."

I had the immense pleasure of participating to an event at Waterstones Gower Street in London last week, where Elizabeth Strout was presenting her latest novel. I really enjoyed it, I found Elizabeth Strout witty, with a great sense of humour, very elegant and kind and strong.
She talked about the importance of being truth when you write, which is what she thinks permitted her to become a well known author. She talked about how she does not judge her characters, even when they are "bad" or they do "bad things".
She explained that, while writing My name is Lucy Barton - which I really really loved - she was simultaneously also writing the stories that then became Anything is possible. The latest novel is indeed the story of various characters from the Illinois town where Lucy Barton grew up, characters who were all in the previous novel.
I loved Anything is possible, I loved how it seems a simple story of normal people from a rural county, but in reality it is all but simple. It touches in depth on a lot of issues, poverty (both material and moral), difference in classes, betrayal, parents & sons/daughters relationships, the PTSD of men who fought in Vietnam to name just some of the topics in the book. And all these subjects are so naturally described and not judged in the novel, Don't get me wrong, the book is quite sad and "dark" in a way, however it leaves you with hope, anything is possible after all and as Strout said at the event, life is messy but we go through it/
Each chapter of the book is about a different characters, however all the people are interlinked so it never gives you the sensation of abrupt endings, there is always a constant flow in the story, with the right pauses and pace to make the readers reflect and assimilate the plot.
Strout can build such an empathy between the reader and the character, so you end up feeling all the emotions they are feeling with them. Elizabeth Strout writes divinely, the stream of words just captures in the novel and you just want more and more. Few authors can give me this feeling of being in the book, of total engrossment in the hard simple lives of the characters.
In this latest novel, I found some similarities with Kent Haruf, in the sense that both writers are masters in writing about countryside life in a simple yet so profound way.
I just loved Anything is possible and I am almost sad I devoured it in two evenings. I loved all of Strout's books so far and I cannot wait for the next one!

Overall rating: 9   Plot: 9   Writing style: 10    Cover: 9

Title:Anything is possible
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Viking Books (Penguin Random House)
Pages: 272
Publication year: 2017

Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind. Reverberating with the deep bonds of family, and the hope that comes with reconciliation, Anything Is Possible again underscores Elizabeth Strout's place as one of America's most respected and cherished authors.

The Author:
Elizabeth Strout was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up in small towns in Maine and New Hampshire.  From a young age she was drawn to writing things down, keeping notebooks that recorded the quotidian details of her days.  She was also drawn to books, and spent hours of her youth in the local library lingering among the stacks of fiction.  During the summer months of her childhood she played outdoors, either with her brother, or, more often, alone, and this is where she developed her deep and abiding love of the physical world: the seaweed covered rocks along the coast of Maine, and the woods of New Hampshire with its hidden wildflowers.
During her adolescent years, Strout continued writing avidly, having conceived of herself as a writer from early on.  She read biographies of writers, and was already studying – on her own – the way American writers, in particular, told their stories.  Poetry was something she read and memorized; by the age of sixteen was sending out stories to magazines.  Her first story was published when she was twenty-six. 
Strout attended Bates College, graduating with a degree in English in 1977.  Two years later, she went to Syracuse University College of Law, where she received a law degree along with a Certificate in Gerontology.  She worked briefly for Legal Services, before moving to New York City, where she became an adjunct in the English Department of Borough of Manhattan Community College.  By this time she was publishing more stories in literary magazines and Redbook and Seventeen.  Juggling the needs that came with raising a family and her teaching schedule, she found a few hours each day to work on her writing.

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