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Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
'My favourite debut of 2017 . . . as funny as it is poignant' Lena Dunham
When Nell Stevens was given the opportunity to spend three months in a location of her choice in order to write her novel, she was determined to rid herself of all distractions. So Nell decided to travel to Bleaker Island (official population: two) in the Falklands where she would write 2,500 words a day.
But Bleaker House is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a young woman realizing that the way to writing fiction doesn't necessarily lie in total solitude and a clear plan. Nor does it lie in a daily ration of 1085 calories, no means of contacting the outside world and a slow descent towards something that feels worryingly like madness . . .
Hilariously funny, painfully honest, and beautifully observed, Bleaker House is part memoir, part travelogue, part story collection. It is an exploration of the narrow spaces between real life and fiction and, in the end, a book about failing to write a novel, but finally becoming a writer.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
This is a funny novel about a girl who decides "to invest" her career to become a writer, so as an extreme measurement, she thought by staying an isolated place, away from chaos, which bring some peace and concentration to begin her first novel. So she choose Bleaker Island in the Falklands (South of Atlantic Ocean). It's a remote island where the number of population is: 2 (including her), during the winter season, along with penguins and sheep.
It brings some hilarious parts (for example when she enters in panic realizing there's no WIFI or internet signal in Bleaker Island, which gives a great experience to the reader how nuts, yet incredible courageous, Nell Stevens, did to stay for a couple of months to do a novel in this isolated island as she is a city girl who loves to socialize, a good drink and internet connection.
However it didn't blow me away too much this book, isn't the author fault, I guess. She simply described her experience in the Falklands and her challenges during those times. Nell's writing is simply easy to read and she does have a good sense of humor. This is a memoir and sort of autobiography about her stay in the Falklands.
It isn’t a long book at all but she writes beautifully and created a really engaging narrative, with warmth, depth and humour. I really enjoyed the descriptions of her time on the Falklands and how she was coping with the isolation.
The book chronicles her journey trying to write her first novel following a writing course and interspersed throughout the text are short fiction stories, completely unrelated to her and her journey. Personally I quite like the mix of fiction and non-fiction but understand that it might not be for some. It was interesting to read the process a writer goes through and in this case the unexpectedly frustrating journey she had. I’m no writer myself but it was easy to relate to her journey, failing at something and then unexpectedly finding a different path to achieving it.
She’s a clearly talented writer and I enjoyed the short stories so I am looking forward to reading what she does next.
Behold the future of recreational reading, for it is here! I’ve always loved the parallel narrative form; seemingly unconnected tales which suddenly, seamlessly fold together as the pages progress. Books like The Hours, London Fields, or indeed Bleak House itself. There’s something both exciting and comforting about reading these disconnected moments safe in the knowledge that there, somewhere, is a bigger picture. That it would all eventually make sense as a complete whole. That there in the ether is an all powerful author who knew what they were doing all along.
Actually, on that last point Nell Stevens cannot claim achievement since she never set out to write this book. However, Bleaker House takes the concept further in that we are offered a selection of entirely different genres rather than narratives. Seemingly unconnected, they all lead us along the path of the creation of this book. Part memoir, part travel journal, part novel and part short story collection, Bleaker House will keep you on your toes and itching to see where it’s all taking you. It’s Nell Stevens’ first book. Not a novel, but the mapping of a writer in search of a novel, and is totally original.
When Nell Stevens found herself attempting, and failing, to write a novel, her solution was that she needed total isolation. She was wrong as it happens, but the point is that she travelled to Bleaker Island in the Falklands to accomplish this isolation and came home with this book. As we discover, it’s not the only slightly nutty, potentially dangerous decision that she’s made in the quest for literary integrity. We glimpse pieces of Nell’s history; her studies, her relationships, her jobs. In a month which saw a huge furore when a South London pub theatre posted a badly worded and patronising job advert addressed ‘Dear Millenials…’ and went on to insinuate that this age group were lazy, out of touch and spoilt, it is clear from Nell’s memoir that for some at least this is certainly not the case.
It is testament to Nell Stevens’ fiction writing so far (don’t forget - there is no novel yet from which we can judge) that in each of the segments of storytelling that litter this book I wanted to learn more; to find out what happened next. These short stories are more than good reading though. They compliment the journals and experiences - because through characters, themes and language we learn about Nell’s creative driving forces. Since it is creativity that is the root of the frustration that lead her to Bleaker Island, this juxtaposition adds to the whole read.
The third element to Bleaker House are the extracts of the novel that Nell went to Bleaker Island to write. It’s not great - if it was then we’d be reading that and not the genre spanning and unexpected work that emerged instead. The presence of these extracts serves to demonstrate the struggle that Nell describes to find a character and story inspired by the Falklands. Clearly there simply wasn’t one there other than herself.
Finally, we feel the lingering presence of Bleak House. There is absolutely no need to have read Dickens’ novel, but to understand a bit about it is helpful. Nell explains enough within her text for anyone who’s never come across it before to understand something of its significance. Bleak House is a classic example of multiple narrative writing so it’s fitting if not a coincidence that it’s name checked here and its physical presence as a book looms throughout Nell’s stay on Bleaker.
Put simply, the experience that a reader enjoys from Bleaker house is more than just that of reading either a novel or a memoir. It’s more like that of making a friend. I’d like to see what Nell does next.
Perfect -- Lena Dunham The perfect read for anyone who has ever considered themselves "a writer" * Sunday Times Style Magazine * Bleaker House swirls text, subtext, and context into a single narrative, a mesmerizing literary levitation act . . . lovely and thoughtful * Vogue * It's not only her fellow writers who will be captivated by Stevens's meditative, engagingly comic reflection on the three months she spent working on a novel * Harper's Bazaar * One of the most original, entertaining, and thought-provoking books I have ever read about the difficulty of writing a book * New Yorker * Hilarious and original, charming and engaging. I loved it -- Rebecca Wait, author of The View on the Way Down and The Followers Nell Stevens takes you on a wild ramble across the landscape of the writing life, and at the end sets you down somewhere entirely new and unexpected. This is a romp of a book, a genre-defying feat of the imagination, and pure pleasure to read. -- Alison Pick, Booker-longlisted author of Far to Go I read Bleaker House in a gulp. It's a charming read whose first third has a laugh a page before Nell's odyssey turns into something more serious. You can't, just by attending writing school, learn how to produce fine writing. This clever and funny book shows you may also want to get out and experience the world, and yourself, as well. -- Dan Boothby, author of Island of Dreams Bleaker House is so riveting and so much fun to read, I would have loved it even if it hadn't also been innovative and brilliant, but it is all those things. Nell Stevens is an excellent writer and I can't wait to read every book she writes. -- Kate Christensen, author of PEN/Faulkner-winning The Great Man Entertaining . . . A thought-provoking reflection on writers and writing * Tatler * I wolfed this wholly original part-memoir, part travelogue, part short story collection in one sitting, and adored it. As well as being funny, edgy, confiding, and ever so slightly horrifying, it's also a fascinating reflection on writing: how it is taught, and how it is learned. And you'll never look at a potato - or a Ferrero Rocher chocolate - in quite the same way again * Bookseller * Fresh and spirited . . . A delightful literary debut * Kirkus * There's something alluringly Victorian about the whole book . . . In our increasingly small and connected world, narratives that tackle the peculiar senses of loneliness and remove, and the effects they have on the self, are increasingly rare . . . Bleaker House never devolves into a stunt book. Instead, Stevens charts a path of personal and professional exploration tinged with both sadness and humor * Jezebel * An inventive memoir about a young writer's struggle to find her literary footing * NPR * A whimsical, good-humored, yearning-filled, thought-provoking read * Bustle * Quirky and engaging . . . A captivating portrait of the creative life * BookPage * This year's literary sensation . . . summer's must-read . . . an often very entertaining book about failing to write a book . . . what makes it most like something Dunham might have conceived is the comic skill with which Stevens deftly builds up a portrait of herself as the flawed but loveably self-deluding heroine of her own pyrrhic publishing scheme. This is a picaresque, recognisably human tale of a young woman's failure to follow through on the glaringly unrealistic goals she set herself. * Evening Standard * As Stevens wrestles with questions of how (and whether) to turn the grist of life's happenings into literary material, she paints an honest portrait of writerly neurosis. * San Francisco Chronicle * An entertaining, perverse and singular book * Observer * Stevens writes with considerable charm and winning honesty * Guardian * Confiding, edgy and ever-so-slightly horrifying . . . I enjoyed it so much I wolfed it in one sitting. Bleaker House is an enthralling reflection on writing: how it is taught and how you learn to do it. And you'll never look at a potato or a Ferrero Rocher in quite the same way again. * Daily Express * Quirky . . . fascinating . . . she may not have written the novel of her dreams, but the book she has produced will resonate with anyone who has shared her ambitions [to write]. * Daily Mail *