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The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Alice Sebold / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2008-10-03 by Picador

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    14 Reviews
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      26.11.2012 11:49

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      Sorry, but it's just rubbish!

      After reading Alice Sebold's absolutely brilliant 'The Lovely Bones' I was very keen to give this book a go, however, I was unfortunaley very disappointed. I found it annoying, dull in parts and plain silly in others.

      The general storyline is that of Helen Knightly who ends the life of her elderly mother, with whom she has always had a very fraught relationship. I found this whole scene a little odd, her mother was clearly nearing the end of her life anyway but for some reason rather than calling for medical help she decides to deal with it herself. Following on from this things get even more bizarre as Helen makes some totally unbelievable choices about what to do next.

      Not much of it makes sense and most of it is just ridiculous, with me sitting there thinking 'why on earth are you doing that?' and 'what makes you think that's a good idea?'. I just couldn't get myself inside Claire's head. I found the character irritating and frustrating and I found the storyline just silly. There are other sub plots and characters which have more point to them and are far more interesting than the main plot, but they still don't manage to rescue this book.

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      08.07.2010 13:49
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      Leave well alone...

      This is a review of the book "The Almost Moon" by Alice Sebold. I enjoyed her book The Lovely Bones so thought this would probably be a good read too. Boy was I wrong. The worst thing was, it was lent to me by someone so a quick turnaround was required.

      I knew it was a strange area to write and read about: killing your mother, but this book quickly turned into a nightmare situation with the key theme being "What do you do with the dead body?" The lead character Helen Knightly makes a series of wrong decisions and ends up running from the police in a bid to 'get away with it'.

      Whilst this isn't a nice thing to read about, the author reveals Helen's difficult past and awkward relationship with her mother. Interspersed with a crumbling relationship, a passion for boys too young for her and a part time career as a nude model, you start to get insight into Helen's chaotic life.

      At no point through the book did I particularly feel sympathetic towards Helen, and a lot of the time I struggled to understand her motives and actions, such as cutting her mother out of her clothing so now she has a naked and dead body (with a broken nose) to deal with.

      I don't think this is one of Sebold's better books and having read a few reviews on here, it looks like most of us are in agreement: don't buy it and don't bother reading it.

      Whilst it only actually covers a day in Helen's life, it felt like much longer. This book left me puzzled and confused, and a little disorientated too!

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        07.06.2010 21:16
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        Not worth reading

        I really enjoyed Alice Sebold's Lovely Bones. When I saw this novel by the same author I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately I wasn't impressed.

        This books focuses on 24 hours in the life of Helen Knightley. The first sentence in the book is "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." So this sets the tone of the book. We soon learn that Helens mother had Dementia and suffered from other mental illnesses.

        The book starts off promisingly enough with an opener like this. It draws you in. However, after the first 3 or 4 chapters it just goes downhill. I don't want to spoil this book for anyone who does want to read it. But during the book we learn that Helen is also quite mentally ill. Some of the things she does and things she says are really quite disturbing.

        During the 24 hours that this novel is set in, Helen has flash backs to her childhood, teenage years and later. This gives us an insight Helens life and how she came to the decision of killing her mum and how she turned out to be how she is today. If you like, the events in her life that have shaped her to be the person she is today.

        The book jumped about a little bit for my liking and I couldn't really connect with Helen. It wasn't an enjoyable read for me and I wouldn't recommend it.

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        17.05.2010 11:04
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        an almost good read

        Helen Knightly has spent her life caring for her agoraphobic mother who had developed dementia in her twilight years. One day, Helen snaps and suffocates her mother and in a state of panic attempts to hide her body. The next 24 hours pass in a whirlwind of emotion and Helen mentally unravels under the strain often acting in a bizarre manner. The Almost Moon tells the story of what happens in the immediate aftermath of Helen's mothers death as well as looking at the preceding years so we can understand what led a seemingly devoted daughter to act in such a brutal manner.

        I have previously read Alice Sebold's other books "The Lovely Bones" and "Lucky" and found them both beautifully written and despite the fact they covered gritty subject matter were easy to read. I had high hopes for "The Almost Moon" and despite the fact that the book is brilliant in places it simply does not live up to its full potential.

        Mother and daughter relationships rarely run smoothly and the love/hate relationship that Helen had with her mother was covered brilliantly with the reader gaining a real insight into the sense of duty felt even though she was treated coldly for years by the one person who should have showered her with love. I'm sure many of us have said we would never end up like our own mothers and vow to treat our own daughters differently to how we were treated and the book also explores the differing relationships which Helen has with her two grown up daughters. I'm sure we have all had that uh-oh moment when we realise when we are acting just like our own mothers despite vowing never to be like her and I'm sure many women will relate with this kind of struggle.

        In many ways this is a brave book which covers many taboos, we are not allowed to talk about the relief that we sometimes feel when a loved one dies for example or the feelings of resentment that caring for someone brings. The effect that growing up with a cold and mentally ill mother has on a persons psyche was also explored, some may not fully appreciate what it feels like to grow up without warmth and support and only criticism but it can be every bit as damaging to a person as more visible forms of abuse.

        In other ways the book does not work quite so well, it seems disjointed at times and does not flow well off the page. Some parts are compelling to read and make you want to know more yet other parts are turgid and a hard slog to get through. The scenes describing the death of Helens mother and what she did to the body were truly disturbing and horrible to read and very upsetting, the first time I tried to read the book I had the flu and ended up having feverish nightmares about those scenes and it was many months before I felt able to go back and finish the book. I didn't fully gel with the character of Helen either, in some ways I identified with her and yet I never fully warmed to her.

        I found The Almost Moon to be a very emotional book to read, I had my own difficult relationship with my mother and felt many of the same emotions that Helen did in that I felt trapped caring for her yet an enormous obligation to keep going. I also felt great relief at her death (although I obviously did not kill her) which is something which I have never been able to articulate, several years on from her dying and friends and relatives still talk about her with great affection and I have never been able to tell them that the woman I knew was very different. I also want to bring my own daughter up differently and related to that struggle that Helen had.

        The Almost Moon is certainly an emotionally charged book to read and one which explores the subject of mother daughter relationships in a way which other books have not yet it is a book which did not fully live up to my expectations due to the haphazard way in which the story was told.

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          26.04.2010 18:03
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          Not what I hoped for, nowhere near as good as The Lovely Bones but very well written.

          Alice Sebold is the fantastic author of The Lovely Bones, now a major motion picture, and with this in mind I thought tha The Almost Moon would be a sound purchase.

          I wouldn't say that the book is exactly a bad book, and it is most definitely very well written. There are times when the book really does grip your attention to the point of not being able to put it down but there were also times when I felt that the storyline was lost and I was being taken through the warped mind of a very confused character.

          I wouldn't want to spoil the book for those who are hoping to read it so I will tell you no more than you can read in the blurb. The Almost Moon is about Helen, a middle aged woman with many deeply rooted feelings of resentment to her mentally ill mother. These feelings culminate in her killing her mother in the first few pages of the book. We then follow her over the next few days as she struggles to come to temrs with what she has done.

          The character of Helen comes across as very confused and muddled. On some occassions she appears cold, heartless and calculating then on others we have some insight into a woman who is still a very upset, scarred and affection little girl.

          My biggest problem with the book would have to be the ending. As mentioned before, the book is well written and does have the ability to grab your attention but the ending is dissapointingly abrupt. All of a sudden it seems to just stop! Leaving so many unanswered questions that it actually ruins the whole book.

          All in all, if you loved The Lovely Bones and you are expecting something similar then youwon't find it here. I haven't yet read Alice Sebold's other novel but The Almost Moon does not possess the same quality or sentiment that I found in The Lovely Bones.

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          10.01.2010 16:19
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          Not as good as The Lovely Bones

          The almost moon is the third novel by acclaimed writer Alice Seabold, who wrote the much-loved bestseller The Lovely Bones. Having really enjoyed her previous book, when I spotted this in the library I borrowed it straight away.

          The Almost Moon tells the story of a middle-aged woman called Helen Knightley who narrates the tale. The book opens with a chapter in which Helen kills her mother. This was not pre-meditated but shocking nonetheless. The rest of the book details the events of the next 24 hours and how Helen tries to cover up this hideous act with the help of her ex-husband. During this time we learn through Helen about her dysfunctional childhood, how her mother was mentally ill, suffering from severe agoraphobia and that there was little love lost between them. After the passing of her father, who committed suicide as he could no longer cope with his wife, the responsibility of her mothers care fell to Helen and she did this more through a sense of duty than through love. We learn how these events have led to her committing this unspeakable act. Will the police discover it was Helen who killed her mother or will she get away with it?

          I found Helen's character to be quite cold and matter of fact. Even though she'd killed her mother there seemed to be calmness about her and she seemed to be thinking quite rationally, even to the point of turning up to work the next day. In fact Helen later relates the killing to a life-long dream. If I'm honest I struggled with her character. I kept saying to myself that it's just a delayed reaction, she'll break down soon, but it never came. At no point throughout the novel did she show any remorse, which I found quite disturbing. Granted she didn't get on with her mother but I would have expected some regret.

          As I learnt more about her back-story, I did at points sympathise with Helen and came to understand her frustrations and why it led her to do what she did. I even began to question whether such an act should be punishable. However, as soon as I'd start to sympathise she'd go and do something quite cold and calculated and I'd go back to disliking her again. In this way I think Helen's character is quite cleverly written.

          Overall the novel was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I felt torn when I read about Helen's situation and couldn't decide whether to sympathise with her or feel disgusted at her for her actions. I wouldn't say that I really enjoyed the book, but found it an interesting subject and therefore pursued with it. Some of the issues raised in it are quite important and thought provoking, such as the difficulties of adults who are faced with the long-term care of an elderly or ill parent. I also found the ending a bit abrupt and for me left many questions unanswered. I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I did The Lovely Bones and it's not a book I would want to re-read.

          The book is available at all good bookshops priced at £7.99, though shopping around will probably land you a better deal.

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            06.01.2010 11:56
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            A depressing read

            Alice Sebold is the American author of three published works to date. Her first book was a memoir, chronicling her traumatic and violent rape as a university student; her second was a novel - The Lovely Bones, about the rape, murder and dismemberment of a young teenager; and then this novel - the story of a middle aged woman who murders her mother. Alice Sebold does not shy away from controversy in her work, perhaps a result of the brutality she herself experienced as a young woman.

            Although many balked at the storyline of The Lovely Bones, it became a best seller and now a mainstream film, managing to maintain a sense of innocence and purity that transcended the sordid details of murder. Unfortunately, The Almost Moon does not get this essential balance right; crammed with every trauma and problem in the book of mental health, abuse and criminal behaviour, this novel only serves to irritate and disgust.

            Helen Knightly is the main protagonist. At 50 she finds herself caring for a mother who is an incontinent, agoraphobic, Alzheimer sufferer. Although her fate is not unusual for a woman of her age, Helen lacks the inner strength to cope with her burden, and thus the novel begins with the now famous first line, "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easy". Quickly sliding past the brutal suffocation of an old lady with a towel, the rest of the book slips between past and present; scenes from the present involve the aftermath of Helen's actions - the way she deals with the body, the people she turns to for help, the way in which she tries to rationalise and justify her violence. Chapters dealing with the past chronicle her bleak and unhappy childhood, living with a mother who is mentally ill and a pariah in the neighbourhood; coping with the violent death of a father who could not bear his own burdens; and trying to survive as a teenager with too much responsibility and too little support. Helen does not make an attractive narrator; damaged by the traumas of her youth, she is filled with self pity and resentment. As one disastrous and inexplicable decision follows another, the reader is helplessly alienated and frustrated by her inability to be rational.

            As a woman of a similar age, who has cared for a parent with Alzheimer's, I initially thought that I would be compulsively drawn to this book. The painful struggle between love and hate in many mother-daughter relationships is one that has been covered many times in literature, and is one that readers love to analyse. My lack of connection with this novel lies both in the unsympathetic characters and the brutality of the prose. The beginning of the novel sets out to shock; with almost clinical detail Alice Sebold relates the way in which the frail 88 year old woman soils herself, is dragged around the house and is then smothered. Little details such as the nose breaking as the towel is pushed down, the sound of the bones twisting and breaking as the body is dragged down the stairs "like bubble wrap popping" - all of this sets out to shock, but only serves to nauseate. Helen's memories of a childhood filled with reproach and emotional neglect evoke sympathy, but never empathy.

            This book has none of the bittersweet poignancy of The Lovely Bones and the reader has little compassion for the main characters. The writing is without doubt outstanding - the narrative is gripping, and the strong emotions that the reader feels whilst reading bear witness to this. However the bleakness and despondency of the subject matter is just overwhelming, and I found myself unable to rise above it. On this occasion I felt that Alice Sebold had gone too far, had perhaps tried to cram too many issues and themes into one novel. Some literary reviewers found dark humour within the novel, but I found myself unable to look beyond the practical and the immediate. Although the story only spans a few hours, the combination of inaction and angst that resulted from the death was infuriating.

            Published by Picador, 2007. 291 pages.
            ISBN: 9780330451352

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              14.12.2009 15:51
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              Worth reading

              The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

              Description: Genre: Fiction / Author: Alice Sebold / Paperback / 304 Pages / Book is published 2008-10-03 by Picador


              You can but this book from Amazon for just £4.85 with free UK delivery right now.

              If you have read my earlier reviews, you will know that I recently read "Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it because it sounded quite dark, but it turned out to be moving and emotional and one of the best books that I have read all year.

              Since then, I was keen to read more by the same author, so have just finished "The Almost Moon".

              This book introduces us to Helen Knightly. Helen is in her 50s and has spent most of her life looking after her mother Clair. Clair has had many problems which left her unable, or unwilling to bestow the love and affection on Helen, that she desired.

              One day, something inside Helen snaps, and she kills her mother. This is something that she has thought about for many years, without ever imagining she would actually do. From there, Helen tries to hide the body, and has sex with her best friends son in a seemingly desperate effort to block out what has happened.

              The story was quite gripping, and despite the fact that she has murdered her mother, I couldn't help feeling a sense of pity for Helen. I found that reading it, I questioned Helen's state of mental health quite a lot, which gave me an interesting insight into how a person may behave, under her circumstances. One one hand, she seemed calm, level headed and sensible, but on the other, she seemed to lurch from one outrageous situation, to another without any sense of right and wrong, or the consequences of her actions.

              I didn't enjoy this book as much as "Lovely Bones" but I did enjoy it because it was extremely well written and forced me to think about things that I may otherwise not have considered. It would be easy to be shocked and disgusted by Helen's actions, but because of the way the book is presented, I found myself feeling more pity than horror.

              If you haven't read this book then I think that it is definitely worth reading, if not for the subject matter then certainly for the style of writing. It wasn't a feel good read, but it was interesting, moving and thought provoking. I am looking forward to reading more by Alice Sebold.

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                19.11.2009 09:42
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                A great book - but not as a holiday read

                After reading other, less favourable reviews on this book, I beg to differ. In fact, after reading these reviews, I was almost put off opening this book; I am so glad that I did read it.

                The hook that pulls you into the book, 'After all is said and done, killing my mother came easily' cannot be faulted; it leaves you desperate to find out what happens next.

                The Author
                --------------

                Alice Sebold is the author of the spectacular bestseller novel, 'The Lovely Bones'. She lives in California.

                Plot
                -----

                The narrator, Helen, is a middle-aged woman who, as an only child, has struggled with her relationship with her parents throughout her life. The story opens after Helen has committed the crime that is universally reviled over the ages - she kills a parent, she kills the woman who has given her life. After she has committed this crime, she embarks on some strange activities: what she does with her mother's body, where she goes after the crime. Also, her feelings about the crime seem to be strangely detached, at times. As well as the action following the crime in present time, the narrative dips back into the past, giving the reader glimpse into her growing up - and this provides the clues that have led Helen to commit this terrible act. The present time of the novel shows the consequences of Helen's actions.

                Characters
                --------------

                The protagonist, Helen, is the centrepoint around which all the other main characters revolve. The first person she tells about the crime is her ex-husband, Jake. There are her two daughters, Emily and Sarah. They are described, 'What Emily had in solid substance, Sarah possessed in her ability to distract everyone from the main topic of conversation.' Emily is sensible, gets on with it, has a family and is living a standard life whilst the more likable Sarah is more of a hippy free spirit. Helen fears for Sarah's mental health. Also appearing in the novel are Helen's good friend, Natalie, and her son of around the same age as Helen's daughters, Hamish. The narrative of the past is peopled with Clair, Helen's mother, her father and their neighbor, Mr Forrest.
                If you are looking for warmth in these characters, you might spend a long time doing so but I do not believe that this makes them unlikable or uninteresting. I actually had a lot of sympathy for the main character and I found it satisfying to see the other characters reeling from her blunt openness. I thought she was refreshingly honest!

                Themes
                ----------


                The key to the strange nature of this novel lies in the fact that the main theme is that of mental illness - how it can run in families and how it traps and destroys families. Helen's mother Clair, struggles with a mental illness which primarily involves agoraphobia. This dogs the life of the growing Helen and her father. Eventually, Helen comes to understand that her father, who she adores, also struggles with his own mental health. I read this novel, whilst at an interesting point in my own life - and I suppose - to some degree - I can identify with Helen. I am also poised between an aging mother with mental health issues and a daughter who has just revealed to me her struggles with her own mental health. The book really made me think about this theme fully. I remember a lightbulb moment in my own teenage years when a boyfriend of mine told me that my mother was the 'maddest' sane person he had ever met. This oxymoron helped me to understand that my mother was different from other people - and, I suppose, it came as a relief that put things into perspective. The other aspect of the mental health issue is that it can be a trait that runs in families - Helen knows that her daughter, Sarah, is the daughter that shows signs of this. it is there The 'Almost Moon' of the title refers to the fact that the moon is always in the sky but it is not always wholly or partly visible - but it is always there - the title is a metaphor for Helen's mother - who her her father describes as 'almost whole'. The moon is described in differing states, watching over Helen's varoius post-killing present time activities. It is like her mother 's influence is omnipresent. The inference, ultimately, is that Helen may also have some elements of the almost moon herself.


                This book also seems to take the starting point that wanting to kill your parent is something that is normal. I was reminded of the psychologist, 'Dr Phil' (who used to do a slot on 'Oprah' and, for a time, had his own show), who said that the same sex parent is the single greatest influence on a person's life. Thinking of this, I undertook some (limited) market research amongst my close and trusted friends. They answered the question, 'Have you ever thought of killing your mother?' with honesty - and I'm afraid that all answered along these lines - they had sometimes thought of having their mother 'gone' rather committing the deed. All of these women loved their mothers.


                Many people express the hope that they 'will not be a burden' in their older life on their loved ones. This wish springs from the almost universal experience of feeling the responsibility (or burden) of aging parents. Having the double trap of the failing health and ability of her mother and the mental issues that terrified her, places Helen in a singularly unenviable position. I completely understood why she killed her mother - although I could not condone such an action.


                Not fitting in, is a theme that goes hand in hand with mental health. The character of Mr Forrest, a gay guy living in the otherwise straight neighbourhood, is the only exterior character that has any compassion for Clair. He understands her issues and extends his helping hand to both Clair and her daughter - providing some insights that help Helen to understand her mother's problems. He is the only non family visitor to her mother's house.

                The ending
                --------------

                This is not a book with a satisfyingly happy ending. Such an ending would be incongruous with the themes of this book and I expect that anyone reading this review would have already given up any hope of this. In fact, the book starts with the disaster that is the sort of ending and reading about the past life of Helen and her family will take place in the shadow of this end.

                To Conclude
                ---------------

                I think that this book deals with difficult themes that are not easy to either admit to or to look at with sympathy; I don't think it is an easy or a comfortable read. I felt that it was a book that was brave and honest in the dealing with somewhat taboo subject matter. General life goes on regardless of the tormented lives of others - but this is a book that takes a look at the torment. I thought it was a great book and I really felt that it was an enjoyable and enriching read. Would I recommend it? Certainly - but not if you are looking for a carefree holiday read. This book deals with something else - something darker and more painful - but something very worthy of a look.

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                  23.02.2009 15:46
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                  It's worth a try!

                  Alice Sebold is an author I know very little about and I acquired this book - The Almost Moon - in a very unexpected way as it was my Secret Santa present at my work's Christmas meal. Somebody obviously knew that I liked reading and I have to admit it makes a change from the crazy ideas or sexy undies that I normally seem to receive.

                  It looked as though it was going to be quite an absorbing book too especially as the blurb on the back cover promised much! It starts off by saying that:

                  'Helen Knightly has spent a lifetime trying to win the love of a mother who had none to spare'.

                  This made it sound just like my sort of read and I fully expected to read about a poor unloved woman who had spent her childhood abused and tormented by her cruel mother. In actual fact this blurb is very misleading because that is not what this story is about at all!

                  The story is set in America and is told by Helen herself. In the very first sentence she tells the reader that she has killed her mother (so I'm not spoiling anything for anyone here) and then goes on to describe her actions, which are most bizarre at times, over the next twenty four hours. It seems strange that the timespan is so short, but the events are interspersed with lots of flashbacks that delve into events that led to that fateful day.

                  The childhood she describes is anything but usual, but it's nothing like what you are led to expect. Instead its a childhood spent dealing with her mother's mental health problems and the alienation she feels from all of her friends and neighbours because of this. At times I found a lot of what she was describing quite fascinating but it wasn't the sort of book that held my attention throughout.

                  Helen's behaviour on the day of her mother's death is very peculiar to say the least and one could almost describe her as macabre. It is very hard to understand why she acts as she does, even given what we know about her upbringing. She comes over as cold and detached and her character feels almost amoral. This is what I found most difficult about the book because although I really wanted to feel sympathetic towards Helen I couldn't, and I didn't even want to like her very much. This is more disappointing because the book is written in the first person from Helen's viewpoint so you do expect a bit more from the character. I couldn't help feeling a bit short changed.

                  Also, as all of the other characters in the book are told from Helen's viewpoint you don't really get to know these either. The character I actually felt for the most was Helen's mother, Clair, who seemed most misunderstood.

                  This was a strange book to read. It should have been most absorbing and compelling but for some reason it just missed the mark. Having said that though, there were moments when it was quite riveting and I felt myself strangely drawn into Helen's warped world.

                  I have been told that other books by Alice Sebold are a lot better so I'm not going to dismiss her as an author just yet - but let's just say that the jury's out for the moment!

                  The paperback is currently available on Amazon for £4.79!

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                    26.01.2009 21:46
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                    Dont read on the beach!

                    I was given this book for Christmas having previously read both The Lovely Bones (charming, witty, sympathetic and gripping) and Lucky (graphic, hard to read and shocking but not a good read) so I really did not know what to expect from this book.

                    From the opening line "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily" you are plunged straight into a story.

                    The lead character Helen kills her mother in chapter one. Not to ruin the plot - you literally are told this from the start.

                    Ok - now why would a fifty something woman kill her 88 year old mother - Clair? Well the first suggestion that you are given is that the mother is suffering from dementia. Having seen relatives suffering from this diesease I could almost understand the wish to end their suffering. But in this book it is not that straight forward.

                    The themes of a number of mental illnesses are covered. Clair suffers from agoraphobia (a fear of going out into open spaces). Having worked in a psychiatric hospital I felt that various scenes describing the way that Clair will only go outside wrapped in blankets are very well researched.

                    There is also a suggestion of mental illness suffered by Helen and her father.

                    The story runs over 24 hours following the killing of Clair by Helen during which you are desparate to find out why the act was done! But, despite numerous flashbacks you never actually find out what led her to do it. Helen never seems to accept what she has done and some of her actions are quite disturbing.

                    The characters are all flawed - you find it very hard to sympathise with Helen, who had a love hate relationship with her mother and a difficult childhood blighted by the local community not accepting her mother's illness.

                    Helen's ex husband Jake is weak but appears to love her and his actions shook me as he tries to support her through a very difficult time.

                    If I am honest I really did not like any of the characters particularly but they are very human and I did feel some sympathy for each of them. You are told that Helen unconsciously kills her mother (in the first chapter) and I am still not sure if I believe this or not.

                    This is not a comfortable book -the issues are fairly hard hitting and I would not take it on holiday.

                    I generally get annoyed when a book consists of flash backs especially as it does not really tell you when the section is set. With this book it was ok as the flashbacks gave you insight into the reason for the crime.

                    You really only get Helen's view of events and this frustrated me slightly as I would like to get into some of the other character's heads!

                    I would not say that I actually enjoyed this book - it covers some difficult topics and the characters are hard to like. I think that this is what the author was aiming for -a haunting novel which leaves you with some questions!

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                      25.11.2008 22:47
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                      Try the Lovely Bones instead

                      This really isn't Alice Sebold's greatest novel - the Lovely Bones is far superior. Having written down the plot in the first line - that the heroine has just killed her mother - there isn't anywhere really to go with it.

                      Although the back story is well put together, the fact that we know what will happen overshadows everything, and we end up judging the heroine's actions in light of what we know she will do in the future, not what she has done in the past (you know what I mean - the past that you get to read about after the fact...)

                      Another reviewer on here commented that the main character is unsympathetic - I think that the female characters generally were poorly drawn and felt empty. If that was Sebold's intention, to emphasise the emptiness of a life lived in the grip of agoraphobia, she didn't achieve a likeable enough character to carry this point.

                      There's a reason this was sold cheaply with the Times....

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                      24.11.2008 11:51
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                      Dreadful, don't bother!

                      The opening paragraph is bound to pull anyone in to this book - "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily." I certainly was no exception, and after reading the "Lovely Bones" and "Lucky" by the same author, I was looking forward to another excellent read.

                      This is the story of Helen Knightly, a fifty something mother who decides to kill her own eighty-eight year old mother. The reasons by behind it at the beginning of the book seems to be that Helen had an unloved and almost brutal childhood in the hands of her mother and has finally had enough of her mother's nasty ways.
                      All is to be revealed about why she is driven to do such a thing through flashbacks to said childhood and to the present, the hours following the murder.

                      My Thoughts
                      **********

                      I have to say that I really struggled with this book. My main reasons are because I didn't find any characters that I particularly warmed to, least of all the lead character Helen. She was detached from her actions - and I certainly felt detached from her in it too. At some points I hoped that she might get some peace from whatever it was that had plagued her her whole life, but always after reading a couple of paragraphs on, I found I was back to having no sympathy for her whatsoever and being totally baffled by her actions (and reactions when the deed was done!)

                      The main reason for my lack of compassion for Helen and her actions are many. Helen and her mother Clair quite literally had love hate relationship, during her childhood she fantasizes about cutting her mother up and mailing her around the world, but then she also talks about the time her mother had to leave the house (amongst her mental illnesses, it appears Clair suffered from Agoraphobia) and Helen made notes out of circular pieces of carrots and posted them everywhere encouraging her on her brave steps showing how she wanted her mother to see the love she had for her without having to actually tell her as Helen wasn't speaking to her at this time.

                      Some things in the book just don't add up and it is difficult to sympathize with Helen, and quite honestly you find yourself almost disliking her. The blurb on the back of the book starts with "Helen Knightly has spent a lifetime trying to win the love of a mother who had none to spare. And as this electrifying novel opens, she steps over a boundary she never dreamt she would approach."

                      I have several problems with this summary and I found it quite misleading. Firstly I was led to believe from this as well as the opening couple of paragraphs that Helens mother Clair is a nasty and evil woman who was so horrible and brutal to her only child that Helen couldn't help but be driven to this awful act, as well as almost unconsciously dong this act, she had never in her life dreamt she would do it.

                      As I have mentioned, the fact that Helen fantasized about killing her mother when she was a child and often saying that she hated her is almost testament to the fact that this act HAS in fact crossed her mind (at least In an adolescent way) and so, although not premeditated, it wasn't quite an act "she never dreamt she would approach."

                      The actions Helen takes after killing her mother are also in direct contrast to this, she is almost clinical in her processes, and we don't see any emotion which in the book I assume was meant to be interpreted as shock, but to me, I just felt that it was total lack of feeling and therefore I wasn't fighting her corner so to speak.

                      As the book wears on, it is also clear that Helen's motives for killing her mother aren't as solid as we are lead to believe. Obviously, there is no justification for murder, especially for the woman who has given you life. However, I expected, through the unraveling of Helen's childhood, to be some accounts as to why Helen would be driven to this act, premeditated or not. However I simply found that Helen was a lonely child, jealous of the affection her mother and father once had for each other and a child that craved the attention of her mother and father. Helen even feels triumphant as a teenager when her parents' friend befriends her and she feels like she has won something over her mother.

                      Her mother Clair on the other hand, though clearly not the best mother on the planet, (often indifferent to Helen, neglectful and sometimes tactless and insensitive), was by no means a devil that needed to be killed! It is unclear exactly what is wrong with Helen's mother - mental illness is bandied around a lot in the book and it's clear from the flashbacks that Clair is not well at all. But at times we see a tenderness that she shows Helen, and it is clear from some of her actions that she doesn't quite know how to deal with her child and how she should act. Yes, Clair is selfish and really not a good mother, but there was nothing truly awful about her.

                      I just found that things were too vague and I kept on waiting for some big secret to be revealed as to why Helen (and indeed her family, especially Helens daughters who seems to think that Clair has ruined their mothers' life) hates her so much. As much as I don't want to ruin the plot for anyone who is intending to read this, I do have to say that no such revelation happens.

                      We do however find out that Helen's father is also suffering from some kind of mental illness, and this might be something that Helen has struggled with since he passed away - again without ruining anything it is possible that this is a trigger and that Helen blames Clair, but again it's all told in half stories...I'm all for subtlety in novels, but I just did not get it. At all!

                      Summary
                      ********

                      Despite the horrible character of Helen and the forgettable other family members (except Clair of course, although dead from the first page, she is the most lively and interesting one when the flashbacks are told!), the fluffy plot that didn't seem to reveal anything interesting and the general depressing vibe of the whole book, I kept on reading regardless, as is my nature! Sadly it did not get any better, nothing more was explained and it is still a mystery to me now I have finished it. The ending was not disappointing, just inevitable and I literally felt nothing afterward except relief that I had finished it!

                      As I mentioned, Clair was the most interesting character; Helen's flashbacks revealed a wicked sense of humour on occasions which made me smile. However her humour seemed to be a result of her mental illness, and a ploy to shock her daughter Helen as much as possible! Still, it was the most upbeat part of the book!
                      The plot really did lack substance to make Helen's actions even remotely justifiable and believable. I just found there were far too many holes in the story and just thoroughly disappointing. I recommend you give this one a skip!

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                        05.11.2008 14:33
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                        Read the "Lovely Bones" instead, and give this one a miss.

                        First and foremost, my biggest problem with Alice Sebolds "The Almost Moon", was that I couldnt relate to the books *heroine* at all.
                        I found her to be selfish, self indulgent, arrogant, and utterly focused upon her own gratification.
                        Im not sure this is what the author was aiming for, and I am sure other readers would disagree with me, but I found all of her actions utterly disgusting, poorly thought through, and motivated solely by the heroines own selfish needs/wants.

                        "The Almost Moon" begins with whats meant to be a shocking first sentance.

                        "When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily".

                        Im not giving you spoilers here. This is the first line. Its immediatly apparent, that for whatever reason, the main character in this book, Helen Knightly has killed her mother.
                        I expected there to be a reason. Some real heartfelt motivation. Something to justify the action. Instead, in the end, it seems to be that Helen Knightly was just a horribly selfish character,who performs awful acts on a whim, with no thought of repurcussions. She is almost childlike, expecting other people to clean up her mess.

                        I think, when talking about killing mothers, there are only two reasons that could ever be acceptable for a reader. Either the Mother was so elderly, and in so much pain, that killing her was the right, and merciful thing to do, or that the Mother was so vile and evil (im talking eating babies evil) that humanity was better off without them.

                        Helen Knightly didnt kill her Mother for either of these reasons. Whilst the book explains that her Mother was difficult, for many varying reasons, and that Helen had a hard time looking after her in her age and illness, it doesnt explain why murdering her, and then performing bizarre acts upon her corpse, was a better idea than moving her to a home for the elderly....something that would have far benefited the poor Mother, and Helen herself.

                        The tone of the book is dreary. Even when the most dreadful acts are being performed, they are narrated in such a calm casual way, thats its hard to care about the actions. Its almost like being detatched from the situation, in the way that Helen is. She performs these deeds with such ease, never becoming panicked, or particularly remorseful.

                        The narration swings from present day, to past memories with lightning speed, never differentiating between the two. Sometimes I had to read back a few sentences to understand which was which.
                        Nearly every moment of *present* narration, draws out a lengthy and pointless memory from Helen....but rather than shedding light on the present day, the memorys only complicate things.
                        Nothing is ever explained, and none of her actions are ever justified.

                        Helen presents herself as some kind of saint, taking care of her sickly and elderly mother, but I never felt that this was accurate. I felt an awful lot of sympathy toward her Mother.
                        Mrs Knightly used to be an underwear model, but declined into an agoraphobic negative creature, adored by her husband, but also abandoned by him (it becomes clear throughout the novel that the husband also suffered from poor mental health, and had extended absences from the house).
                        Helen, from an early age, expressed fantasies of cutting her mother into pieces, rather than sympathising with her Mothers plight.
                        There is more to loving someone that feeding and cleaning them, and this is something that Helen never seems to grasp, instead, she just whines about her own sad chldhood, and how hard she had it, rather than trying to find suitable help for her Mother.

                        More disturbing to me than the murder, was the way that Helen picks people up, and drops them, using them for her own gratification, and not giving anything back.
                        She seems to blame her ex husband for their divorce, although it seems to me that her detatchment and emotional blankness is more to blame.She also seems to resent the fact that her two daughters favour their father, rather than trying to fix this.
                        After murdering her Mother, she calls her ex, who proceeds to try and clean the mess up. She seems to lean back and let him do this, completely oblivious and uncaring that it might implicate him.
                        She also disregards his feelings when, with no more reason than to feed her ego, and to pass some time, she sleeps with a friends son. She obviously doesnt care about hurting her ex husband, the boy she sleeps with, or the boys mother. She only seems to care about herself.

                        I really didnt care about Helen. At all. The entire book was a dreary account of an unstable person, who never thinks logically, and has no regard for the feelings of others, or the concequences of her despicable actions.

                        Alice Sebold has written two other books, "The lovely bones", and "Lucky" which I enjoyed immensely, and recommended to others.
                        "The almost moon" seems merely like an afterthought. Something to pass the time.It lends heavily from "The lovely bones", but captures none of the magic, or the sympathy that we feel for the main character.
                        It seems like a lazy novel to me,with no depth to the characters, and no justification for the actions.

                        Perhaps this novel would be enjoyable for a reader that has a difficult relationship with their Mother. I, however, love my mum completely, so couldnt relate at all.

                        I really would give this one a miss. I had a hard time reading it, and an even harder time caring about it.

                        Author-Alice Sebold.
                        Genre-womens fiction.
                        pages- in my paperback version, 291.

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