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'This Book Will Save Your Life' by A.M. Homes has a balance of everything you need in a good book as far as I'm concerned, some is touching, a lot of it is very funny, and the disconnection felt I think is pretty easy to relate with for most people.
This is a book about a man who appears to have everything, he is very wealthy, and has an amazing Hollywood home and extremely expensive car, from the outside he has everything you could want.
However he seems to have lost touch with life outside his Hollywood home he has all this money to hire a housekeeper, personal trainer, and nutritionist, but these people become the only people in his life, and the only ones he ever appears to have contact with from the outside world.
Because of this he has become completely disconnected with society, and also with himself, he no longer knows who he is or what he feels. His life and every day routine as he knows it is then broken when he meets a doughnut shop owner and everything is thrown out of balance.
This book is mostly very funny, and also quite touching in some parts, and I think its a really good read. Its also easy to understand and follow, which makes you feel like you are part of the story.
Years ago, I read a book called "The Greatest Gift" about a man determined to sort his life out by giving out to others. I found it to be rather weak and with an unsympathetic main character. Quite why I expected "This Book Will Save Your Life" to be any different, I'm not sure. Maybe I was blinded by the enthusiastic praise from Stephen King, one of my favourite authors, on the back cover. Maybe I'm just an optimist and figured there couldn't be another book quite as bad. Maybe I was just hungry at the time and the rows of doughnuts on the front cover caught my eye. Whatever it is, the book has taught me a valuable lesson.
In "This Book Will Save Your Life", Richard Novak lives a solitary existence. He lives alone in Los Angeles, thousands of miles away from his ex-wife and their only son, as well as the rest of his family. He makes his living trading stocks and sees no-one but his cleaner and his nutritionist and frequently doesn't even talk to them, as they come and go around him. His life has fallen into routine and he has barely noticed that he has no support network.
This becomes glaringly apparent on the day he suddenly experiences an unexplained pain in his chest. Concerned he's having a heart attack, he ends up in the emergency room. This is just the first thing to happen that rocks Richard's life to its foundations, as a hole appears outside his house, he starts befriending random people and enlists the help of a film star to rescue a horse from a hole. He gets in touch with himself, empty calories, neighbours, strangers and his family; things he has not related to in a long time.
On the plus side, this means that there is always something going on and the story lurches from event to event quite quickly. Sadly, this is about the only good thing I can think to say about the book, as in most ways, it's a bit of a disaster. There rarely seems to be a coherent narrative, as Richard's life seems to go from upheaval to random act of kindness without pause and with no apparent link between the two.
Sometimes a weak story can be salvaged with brilliant characters, but that doesn't happen here. Richard is not someone I could empathise with, as his life was so far removed from my own. He's someone who gets along very well with his solitary lifestyle and has the money to achieve this and various random acts of kindness - which are frequently very random indeed. This meant that there was nothing in this book I could associate with and didn't help suspend my disbelief, which was vital in a story this strange.
The background characters are nothing special, either. They were painted only with the broadest of brushstrokes and you never got any more than the vaguest of feelings about them. This also meant that many of them blended in to each other and it was difficult to keep them separate, especially the female characters who all seemed to have quite similar sounding names. It means that the characters got confused in what was already a confused storyline and nothing grabbed me enough to make me want to try and sort them out in my mind and follow things more closely.
I suppose that this book could have been a sharp satire on the lifestyle of rich Americans in California, but if that was the case, the satire was so clever, it completely passed me by. This is in itself a dreadful shame, as the worry I had that I was missing something vital combined with the lack of coherent story and the lack of characters I could associate with into a horrible mess that ended up tasting as bad as a whole as the majority of my cooking.
This book will only save your life if you're close to freezing to death and you can burn it for warmth. In all other ways, it's a complete waste of time and money, even allowing for it being available from Amazon for as little as £1.00. If you want a good read, you'd be better off spending your £1.00 in a charity shop and picking something else. And the next time I'm hungry and tempted by a picture of doughnuts, I can take my £1.00 to a stall near Swindon bus station and just but the doughnuts. They'll taste better than the book and the paper bag they come in will be a better read.
Of course it's not going to 'save your life', it's a fictional book! But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I have no idea why. There isn't much of a plot; the story doesn't ever seem to be going anywhere. Richard Novak is a rich man living in LA, who experiences a lot of physical and emotional pain. His whole character appears to be quite childish - he buys doughnuts and makes friends with the shopkeeper, he fears a lot of things, and he lives a life where everything is handed to him on a plate. I loved the way the book was written becuse life seems so easy where the characters live. I think negative reviewers are expecting too much from the story - maybe the title was actually aimed at Richard? Or even the author; I'm pretty sure the money that the book generated certainly helped with life! I would recommend this for an easy yet interesting read. I also love doughnuts so...reading about them is good!
Richard Novak is a man apart. Literally. Living in the Los Angeles hills, financially sustained in his successes as a stock market daytrader, he has shed all meaningful contact from his life, eschewing family and friends in favour of an isolationist existence. Richard's rather aimless malaise of a life is suddenly interrupted by an indeterminable pain. Initial worries of a life-threatening heart attack prove false, but the scare is sufficient enough to set in motion a journey of discovery, the intimate and often surreal details of which becoming the story's focus. In a nutshell, this includes Richard broadening his social circle, learning the joys of altruism (if that isn't a paradox) and bridging the chasm-like gap between himself and his estranged son. Whilst spending lots of money.
Meanings behind this book? Well, it depends on what you actually think the author's intentions were in writing it. In dealing with weighty issues such as the causes of sociological and emotional detachment, Homes, in how she transforms Richard, is at least partly suggesting this book is a treatise on turning unhappy people into happy people - hence the book's title. From this, more serious perspective, the book fails. And the reason for this lies in the protagonist himself.
Because of the somewhat niche appeal of Richard - a rich, self-made man with few responsibilities - it is difficult to maintain any kind of empathy for his situation and thus draw any profundity from his altered outlook on life.
A rich man with problems? Already you're asking the reader to overcome certain prejudices that may inspire a lack of empathy. A rich man with problems who is able to solve these problems by spending lots of money? Okay, now you're really pushing it.
Yes Richard is a man in turmoil, but it is a shallow turmoil cured by shallow means, in ways that 99% of us cannot appreciate and so cannot really care about. Thus, in order to reattach himself to humanity he buys doughnuts and he buys cars, he rebuilds his house and hangs out with similarly self-doubting Los Angelians, eating expensive food and smoking pot. And that's fine; as an antidote to some of my deepseated issues I wish I could do the same! - but, from a reader's perspective, it serves only to ostracise.
Opinions on the book perhaps improve if your perspective on its purpose changes. The breezy pace and lack of any serious obstacles thrown in the protagonist's way suggests the reader is not meant to view this book in a serious light. Despite the story's premise, Richard is never truly tested, and so this book is what it is: a quasi-lighthearted meander into the thought processes of a disenfranchised man. In this respect it is perfectly readable. Homes has a warmth and accessibility about her writing that is enticing, especially when it comes to her secondary characters (with the exception of Richard's whiney, spoilt brat of a son, Ben), and she's not shy from throwing in the odd acerbic nugget to spice things up.
But, for me, the juxtaposition between the potentially heavy subject matter and the all-too-superficial way in which it is dealt with, is just too jarring, too detached, for me to recommend purchasing this book.
Unless you are held to ransom by some crazed escapee demanding, on pain of death, a copy of 'This Book Will Save Your Life', it is most unlikely that this book will ever actually save your life.
And what a pity that is.
don't be fooled by the donuts, its not a book about donuts, they are merely a backdrop to the main story. a story that comes across as it was written. uncomplicated yet meaningful. the story revolves around richard novak, a man for whom life has become as repetative as the sun going down and the moon coming up. that is until a health scare turns his life upside down. no longer do the small things matter, getting back in touch with his human side is what counts now. no more treadmill, no eating the perfect diet, no more being a loner. that of course is the main theme of the book. right from the start you get a feel for richard's lone, repetative existance. until of course he decides to live a little. meeting new people along the story makes richard realise life isn't about what you need, or want, its about what you have. and richard certainly has a lot, he just didn't appreciate it, something we're all guilty of. a story told by a writer worthy of telling it, this is one of homes greatest masterpieces. never has a title spoken so truly. this book will have you gripped from the very start. it is definately a must read.
Yes, I know it's been a while. In the time that I have been neglecting the interweb I have, in fact, been having a real life. Don't gasp like that, it's just not cool. The main reason I fell off the face of the planet was that I went on holiday for two glorious weeks in the sunshine. I spent my days lounging round in the sun, frolicking in the sea and eagerly drooling over any man under 30 (years old), 13 (stone) and above 18 (back to the years) that walked past. In my defence, they were all topless, Greek gods. Throw in that I was having to spend these two weeks in the company of my dearest but decidedly lesbionic friends while the cute guy I fancied was thousands of miles away, I was quite entitled to a bit of drooling.
Whilst I was sat on the beach, between frantically applying sun lotion to my pasty white skin (which, I have now discovered, no longer burns to a crisp but turns into a giant freckle fest, note to self: must complain at parents for that) and munching down on giant ice cream sundaes, I had to keep myself entertained.
Before I had left for this holiday I had indulged in a fantasy that I would, in fact, read a tonne of books while I was away, clearly forgetting that I am the worlds slowest reader, so I was quite well equipped with books. The first one I read on my holiday was "This book will save your life" By A. M. Homes. It was also the last book I read on holiday. Yep, two weeks to read one book. Throw me to the lions.
When shopping months in advance for this book, the giant 3 for 2 sticker on the front lured me in. Damn you Waterstones!! More damn on them since I ended up buying 4 books. You can pick this up from between £4 and £7.
The cover (which is slightly different from the one shown on dooyoo) is quite an appealing sight: six delicious doughnuts, set out neatly as if to shout "EAT ME!" to passers by. Given that I regularly shout that at passers by, I was impressed. Now... I know they say never judge a book by its cover but I have a word of warning for you: Wasps.
You need an explanation?? Oh fine. The whole two weeks I was in that rather warm part of the world (42 degrees in the shade at 7pm? Hell yes!) I was surrounded by wasps trying their best to nibble at my doughnuts. Very relaxing.
Another slight downside of the cover is the giant title. Think about it. You are walking along the beach and you see someone who has just frenziedly applied sun cream, ran away from a swarm of wasps and then gawped at a group of guys in trunks with a sad look in his eyes. You then notice the big bold letters on the book he is reading: THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. Just try and tell me you wouldn't think that was a self help book? I certainly felt like I didn't want people seeing the title just in case they thought it was. And that just isn't relaxing. I need no help. Well... I do, but I very much doubt I'm gonna get it from a book.
One last nasty surprise on the cover? As I peeled off the 3 for 2 sticker, I noticed a nice big circle up in the corner. "Recommended by Richard and Judy's book club!" WHAT!??!? You may like those two; personally they bore me to sobbing and I'd rather gouge my eyes out than be seen with a book endorsed by pseudo-intellectuals. I can't believe I just called R and J anything associated with intellectuals. Hmm.
---Never Ending Story---
So, now that I have rambled on about nothing in particular for a long time, I shall tell you about the story. That made me laugh. You'll soon realise why. Maybe.
We begin by meeting Richard. He is a total recluse, but a RICH total recluse. He sees his cleaner and people watches from the windows of his house (which is quite expensive by the way). Then his body starts giving him jip. After a trip into hospital and thinking that he might die quite soon, Richard starts coming out of his shell. God forbid, he even starts meeting some incredibly different people. And by different, I mean completely dull and normal. But he is rich. Its almost like he is mingling with the poor people. I do say!! When he meets some people, some crazy stuff happens, then he meets more people, more crazy, blah blah blah. I really wish there was more to it than that.
---Dance monkey, Dance!---
Unfortunately for you guys, I have nothing but criticism for the book. You now (if you wish) get to sit here and listen to me bitch and moan about a book.
First off, I have to point a rather large gun at the author for the names of her characters. Richard keeps bumping into women and thanks to the authors inventive names, I can't actually remember who is called what. They all sound very similar. Celia suddenly becomes Sylvia, Sylvia turns into some other woman and on and on goes this game of phonetic scrabble. I found it confusing to the point where I just referred to the characters the way I do with people I meet. I call them what they are to me, for example: Film guy, the "I'm-not-a-lesbian-but-I-like-your-hair" girl, creepy new-years guy. By the time I got half way through the book, most of the people other than the main guy all had their own explanatory sentence in my mind.
Along the same name related rant, there are a couple of "famous" people mentioned. Being a work of fiction, these people are completely made up. I don't appreciate being fed fake names and being told that everyone knows who they are. People should not write about famous people unless they are real. That's just a little bug bear of mine though.
---Look at me maw! I'm Random!!---
My next moan? The story we are painstakingly dragged through is a series of seemingly important - but ultimately not- random happenings. Can you feel the love? Don't get me wrong, I adore randomness for the sake of randomness but for crying out loud! This took the biscuit. This took the whole effing barrel and only left those crappy ones at the bottom that no one really wants. From the moment Richard has his episode to the end of the book, each event seems more and more contrived than the last. It isn't helped by the fact that Richard has a seemingly endless flow of cash to help him in and out of these weird situations. Forced randomness coupled with a character that no one bar a millionaire would be able to relate to on any sort of level left me staring at the pages thinking "this has to be important later on, why else would you put THAT in the story??!" more than a few times.
---Drugs, sex, rocking chair---
Oh what to pick on now. Homes. Er...yes, Homes constantly tries to push on you a wealthy side of life which means there's a few people smoking pot around fires discussing the finer points of life, shagging like there is no tomorrow and glugging down bottles of your finest whiskey. Most of them are probably just trying to escape being a character in her book. I wasn't a huge fan of this debauchery. I'm not even sure why. It just wasn't done well at all. It didn't fit with the characters it was thrust upon, almost like the author is there on every page with a grin and a sign saying "please tell me I am cool now?"
On top of all this healthy living is a giant layer of ACTUAL healthy living. Trainers, Gyms, spa's, silent retreats, alternative therapies, intimate massages, groups set up by plastic surgeons to help find lonely housewives jobs... (I am being serious). All of this was played on far too much, again like the author was seeking some sort of approval for knowing about these things. Long, in depth conversations about what breakfast is best for you and why are played out for you to... I don't know...use when you really need to bore yourself to sleep? The only upside of all of this is that the lead character occasionally gets a finger up his arse from his masseur in an attempt to relieve some sort of emotional stress or some such guff. And he likes it.
---I have no problem with my attitude---
On the note of bum loving, my next beef with the book (great word choice I thought) was the way Richard reacts to one of the gay characters. It's with disgust, fear, loathing but all hidden under those outer layers of calm. That's the most annoying kind of disgust. I wouldn't normally have a problem with someone not liking a gay guy, but for someone who on more than one occasion enjoys having his tomb raided by his masseurs pointing finger, it seems totally out of place.
The masseurs finger, however, is not the only thing that is out of place in the story. When people speak to each other, you may be left in total confusion as to what words belong to whom. You may be confronted with half a page of conversation, none of which contains any signposts as to who is saying what to who. There are points where I'm sure the same character is speaking but each sentence has been given its own line and set of quote marks. Maybe I am just easily confused.
---Where is the rest??---
So, if you were under the impression that anything would actually be tied up, make any sense or have any point, you will have persevered till the end. At this point you might want to move all the sharp objects and people away from you as you will want to fly into a fit of rage when you realise that it all ends in the middle of nothing. Nothing is tied up, I'm not even sure there is anything TO tie up if I am being honest. One last forcedly random burst and pop goes the weasel, the story is over. It left me feeling frustrated and quite glad I read it on holiday. Had I wasted my free time at home reading this when I COULD have been doing other things, I would be mightily miffed.
---I can haz gold star now?---
I feel I should look for at least one good point in the book. I am struggling. Give me a minute I'm sure something will come to me. I suppose that very occasionally the book will make you smile. A few of Richards very sheltered views on the world are quite funny and sometimes he is actually quite a likeable (if not incredibly dull) guy.
I also just realised the best thing about this book. It stands up really well to pool side abuse. While my friends books were torn limb from limb as the sun melted the glue in the spines and lotion seeped through the covers, mines remained intact. I feel this is nothing to do with Homes though.
---Is the scary man gone?---
It seems it is not a good idea for me to write a review on a book I didn't like when I am already in a foul mood. To hell with it. What's done is done! The book is not good. It is pointless and (much like myself) rambling. It's very hard to connect with any of the characters (I have connected with cannibalistic serial killer characters before, so its not like I'm a tough one to crack) and the whole plot is just ridiculously unnatural. Mostly it is just more proof that you should never trust what Richard and Judy tell you.
In conclusion, I would suggest you only read this if you A: are a very fast reader B: have time to waste or C: are being paid good money to read it.
You can come out now. I'm getting put back in my cage.
Firstly, let me say, this is not the sort of book I usualy read. I am into Micheal Crichton, Stephen King, and when I feel intellectual, Richard Dawkins or something related to therapy or social constructionism.
It was only when I was heading for Waterstones checkout with a bunch of 'murder, death, kill' books under my arm I thought: "Time to do a bit of more chilled reading", lol.
So, after looking at the front cover, and being surprised at the reviews on the back (I thought it was a diet book at first), I decided to buy it.
It is what I would call a bubble gum book (bit like bubble gum pop): It is pleasant, not very taxing, easy to pick up, easy to put down, memorable in a 'nice' but unintrusive way.
The basic story line is about a very wealthy, healthy, hermit like stockbroker (Richard), living in the hills/suburbs amongst other wealthy, healthy folk in L.A. (but of course). He spends his days playing stocks and shares, running on a treadmill, eating the 'right' foods, has a cleaner/cook, nutitionist, personal trainer, and all the other trappings that he has 'earned' through his worship and knowledge of the money making machine that is the stock market.
He is in his 50's, divorced, has an almost grown up son (Ben) who is not in regular contact with, brother, very few friends.....his life consists of all the above, and wistfully watching an attractive woman swimming daily in her pool, down the hill. He has no real friends, just aquaintances and his relationships are basically money related, he pays people to do things for him.
He then has a life changing experience, convinced he is having a heart attack he goes to hospital, gets checked out, realises it is more anxiety related than physical health related and starts to try to make sense of his life.
He has a number of fortunate/unfortunate meetings with people by chance. A doughnut shop owner, a woman having a breakdown, a film star. He also starts to make contact with his family again. He realises that life is more than money through a varied and somewhat strange set of experiences.
What follows is an exploration of a lonely, work driven, out of touch character that does his best, in a typical Hollywood way, to 're-engage' with himself and society, with his feelings, with the people he has 'lost' and with life in general.
I will say, as writing goes, the literary style is quite clever, in a very unobvious way. For instance, there is constant reference to the fact that he has a 'sinkhole' developing in his lawn (well he is near the San Andreas fault), which, to me, is a clear metaphor for his life having a sinking feeling.
I want to be damning of the book, as it really does not amount to very much, yet there are some really nice places that make the reader smile, and some quite thought provoking, throw away comments. It is as if the author has tried really hard, not to make the book too hard to read, yet at the same time encourage the reader to think for themselves.
There are some nice touches toward the end, and whilst I am not going to spoil the ending for you, it is the end chapter(s) where we see Richard and his son start to reconnect in a quite emotional, and at times, harrowing way.
I did, against all my expectations, like the book, it is good holiday reading in my opinion. Though it does try a little to hard to be profound. I was quite surprised to find out the author is a woman as I expected, after reading, that it was a middle aged Hollywood man.
Finally, watch out for the internal massage scene, it is genuinely, very, very, funny, and very 'L.A.'.
Very updated from a review I posted on Ciao.
'This Book Will Save Your Life' may not save your life, but it will definitaly make you look at it in a new way. It features a man disconnected from the world, who suffers a life scare, and it makes him realise that he has to do something to stop his life from becoming a waste. There is a series of odd events, a new best friend, a son with whom he emotionally reconnects with, and a house by the sea. It was hard to put down, and left a lasting impression upon me. I would definitaly reccommend it.
I was out in my local supermarket the other week. I fancied something sweet. I stood in front of the Krispy Kreme doughnut cabinet for a while trying to figure out how many more miles I would have to walk if I bought one when I spotted 6 calorie free doughnuts in the next aisle.
Not another self-help book I thought to myself when I walked into the paperback book aisle, staring at the title page showing a selection of 6 delicious looking doughnuts with the words this book will save your life printed all over them in large black letters. But I was mistaken, it was not a self-help book but a novel. At £3.72 it wasnt going to break the bank so I picked it up and added it to the trolley.
Richard Novak, a well off stock trader with a house in the Hollywood Hills is not what you would call social. The only people he sees during the week are his housekeeper, personal trainer and nutritionist who supplies him with macrobiotic, low carb food. His life is disrupted when he feels a sudden dull pain in his chest. Believing it is IT, The Big One, he is taken to hospital where doctors cant find anything wrong with him, other than anxiety, and hes soon discharged. But this experience has awoken something in him and Richard is slowly integrating back into society. He meets people and makes new friends including a doughnut seller, a famous actor, a housewife in a supermarket, a weird neighbour in Malibu, he visits his brother and tries to reconnect with his teenage son he has rarely seen since his divorce.
I had never heard of the author A M Homes before nor did I know whether or not the author had written other books. I ignored what the critics said on the back of the book and inside the front so I could read the book without preconceived ideas. But there was one thing worrying me, the label on the title page proclaiming it was short listed by Richard & Judys book club. Annoyingly its not a sticky label, its part of the title page and short of clipping the title page theres nothing you can do to get rid of it.
The book is set in California, Los Angeles to be precise. That means that the writer can take the story any which way she likes Los Angeles tends to have the most extreme people living there so anything is possible and no storyline is too outlandish to pursue. But the question must remain, if the main character Richard did not have the disposable income he has, would he have been able to become the accidental hero he turned out to be?
The book takes place over the space of a number of weeks no more than a couple of months and it shows that anything is possible, at least when its part of a book. I enjoyed reading about Richard Novak and his attempts to become friends with people, experience life the way he had forgotten existed and therefore become a new man.
But on the other hand it the book also describes the way we, the reader, see people who live in Los Angeles, slightly aloof, not really part of anybodys reality, wasting money on the latest food craze, fitness craze and generally not really living the life normal people live with all the problems of everyday life.
Of course this book does not describe real life, it describes a preconceived idea of what Los Angeles and its wealthy inhabitants are like, neurotic, removed from everyday life and problems, listening to self proclaimed fitness and health gurus. We can laugh at how silly these people are and at the same time feel sad that the world has come to this.
But we can also suffer along with Richard Novak who decides that enough is enough and its more important to connect with other people than live in a perfect world by themselves without ever having to interact with anyone.
And we also see how difficult it is to re-enter normal life after choosing to avoid it for the longest time.
This book will save you life is a book of how to become a part of society after a prolonged absence. But its not a guide for everyday folk, it tells the story of a rich, well-off Californian who can afford to do it his way or any which way he likes.
I quite liked the book. I finished reading it. Its much more than I can say about a lot of other books. But if I have one quibble then its the way it ends. It just does. You notice the ending is near when you only have a few pages left but I was left looking at the page not believing what I saw. I still dont know what to make of it. I normally feel something when I close the book (such as What a waste of time or wow and anything in between). I was left thinking Huh? and was actually looking for more.
The book is in no way taxing on the brain, its a nice book to read either on the way to and from work (preferably not while driving but on public transport), in the bath, in bed or at the beach. Its easy on the brain, fun to read and easy to digest. Then it can be recycled by being dropped off in your nearest charity shop so it has a chance to bemuse more readers.
For more information on the author:
Available to buy from all good booksellers, supermarkets and online from £2.99 used (Amazon Marketplace) RRP £7.99
A 57-year-old man experiences a pain attack and when hes asked in hospital who he wants to call, he doesnt know what to answer. Existential angst sets in, He didnt want to die. He couldnt die. He hadnt even lived yet. Nothing serious can be found, though, and when hes back home, he decides to change his life.
So far, so unoriginal, tons of books must have been written in the western world about this subject (I doubt that Hindus and Buddhists bother what with their belief in rebirth), if an author uses this plot, they must wrap it into a captivating story to make readers want to read it. What has A. M. Homes made of it?
The story is set in Los Angeles, aka la-la land, this is not just any setting because a story has to be set somewhere, LA and what it stands for play a vital part in the story, more of this later. Richard Novak has moved there from New York after leaving his wife, a workaholic editor of self-help books, and his young son. He lives alone in a luxurious house high up on the hills, the only people he sees regularly are his housekeeper and his personal trainer, once a week a nutritionist brings him health food. He works from home, already early in the morning when hes jogging on his exercise machine, he checks his shares and trades securities, hes rolling in money, he doesnt know how much hes got. It can happen that he doesnt leave his house for weeks.
On his way home from the emergency room he tells the taxi driver to stop at a doughnut place, with this first break of his routine a new phase of his life begins, he doesnt only change his eating habits, he also lets people into his life and the ones he gets to know are an odd assortment indeed. Youre a freak magnet, his housekeeper tells him. He collects: Anhil, the doughnut man, a natural philosopher and an example for the happy immigrant whos made it in the USA; his neighbour on the hill, an action hero movie star whose hobby is cooking; a crying woman he meets in the aisle of a supermarket, desperate because neither husband nor children have noticed her and what she does for them for years; a supposed bum turning out to be a famous author of novels and film scripts; the people he meets at a week-long silence retreat (where he gets an inner-butt massage!); his one-breasted instructor of gyrotonics (whatever that is) and also his gay 17-year-old son who comes to California for a summer job. His doctor, a psychological internist tells him to live, later its discovered that hes a fake and is no doctor at all, but its too late, Richard has already followed his advice, he even gets involved in some adventures and becomes a kind of local hero.
A man searching for the meaning of life is a serious subject, how is it dealt with in this novel? Many readers consider it a satire, I dont agree. Together with Richards development we also get a glimpse of the life in la-la land, if the media are anything to go by, there *are* people in California living just like that, lets only take the obsession with health food and fitness exercises. It is ridiculous, but describing something ridiculous accurately doesnt turn it into satire, satire lives from exaggeration. I can imagine Los Angelinos reading about Richard Novak nodding their heads because they feel they know him or because they are just like him or at least to a great degree. The novel can only seem satirical for readers who come from a completely different background, but then the effect is unintentional. Being a 'normal' Central European I'm different enough from the characters of the book and enjoy their ridiculousness.
In a recent interview Homes said she wanted this novel to inspire social responsibility and then worried shed gone too far, Oh my god, Ive become this weird little goody-goody who just wants people to be nice to each other. If she really had had the intention to make social responsibility the subject, she should have chosen a different main character in my opinion, a man whos indeed an Everyman, its too easy to be good if one has dough (not doughnuts) like Richard. Does he buy his new friends? No, one cant accuse him of that, but his money certainly greases the relationships nicely. Some reviewers call Richard an Everyman, I have my doubts that someone who buys two Volkswagen beetles in one day and pays cash to give them away as surprise presents can be seen as an Everyman!
A recurring topic is the threatening aspect of nature, on the slope under Richards house a sinkhole appears getting deeper every day and in the end ruining the fundament of his house, Anhil finds tar oozing out of the ground in his cellar, mud slides make houses slither into the ocean, bush fires break out, animals attack - in this respect the novel is part of the so-called apocalyptic school of Los Angeles fiction. In this city two American myths meet: Go West and the Pursuit of Happiness, LA is the final destination, you cant go further, if you havent made it there, where can you go? The pressure to make something of your life cant be greater anywhere else in the world.
Do I recommend the novel? Oh yes, youll enjoy it if you dont take it too seriously and if you dont mind that it is written in the present tense (one star off for that), its a good read, especially if - following Asterix and Obelix in their attitude towards the Romans - you think of your transatlantic cousins, Theyre crazy, those Americans!
First published in 2006
Cover price 7.99 GBP
This is the first book by A.M. Homes that I have read and thus I had no preconceptions of my own approaching it. The professionals' reviews uttered things like 'glass-sharp' and 'acid-etched' while the readers' ones were more along the lines of 'nice' and 'uplifting'. And Stephen King said that it might even save somebody's life.
There is little doubt that "This Book Will Save Your Life" won't do any such thing, in fact it's one of those books that one enjoys a lot while reading, but which leaves no lasting impact. On the surface, it's an enjoyable story of emotional redemption, of a man re-establishing his connections with human world and his own emotions and history and thus coming back to what's defined as 'life'.
Richard Novak is rich and independent. He is in fact, so independent of social connections that he's not sure that he's alive anymore. He lives in a house on a hill in Los Angeles and trades stock (or really, just tweaks his investments) from home; he has a housekeeper, a nutritionist, a personal trainer and he's not been out of the house for 24 days, when an attack of inexplicable and excruciating pain provides a stimulus for him to change his ways. And change he does. He starts eating donuts and in the process befriends an immigrant owner of a donut shop, he meets a woman crying in a produce section of a supermarket and offers her refuge without obligation, he goes on a silent retreat, he rescues a horse from a sinkhole and a kidnapped girl, he befriends a film star and he visits his brother's family, and he prepares for a visit from his grown up son, whose mother he divorced years ago.
I have seen Richard described as an Everyman, but he's no Everyman, unless for very affluent middle-class urban Americans. Above all, he's rich and until its surfacing as pain, his internal torment is perfectly insulated, encased in a tomb-like structure inside him, where he's not aware it's there. It's the money that allows him to insulate and, paradoxically, it is the money that, ultimately, allows himself to reconnect. He becomes nice, in fact he becomes something of an accidental hero and a LA Good Samaritan - doing for other people what he can't do for himself.
"This Book Will Save Your Life" is a great read. The progression of bizarre incidents (as if Richard's resurrection resulted in a lifetime of events being crammed into few weeks) is very compelling and, despite the feeling of reading a 'Life on Mars' kind of story I enjoyed it immensely. I am not even sure why, as there is no particular intrigue to follow, but if finding out what happens next is one of the prime motivations to read, then certainly in "This Book Will Save Your Life" it is taken to a very enjoyable extreme.
And finally, there is the milieu in which the events take place, the wealthy Los Angeles of the beginnings of the 21st century, with its therapies and spas, retreats and an army of personal service workers a rich person can employ: to prepare and buy his food, to adjust his limbs while exercising, to choose a shade of paint on the wall, to give him internal buttock muscle massage (in all sincerity and without any sleazy subtext).
'Any abuse?' is asked as a routine question when you speak to the doctor, the cleaner won't work for fat clients, people take IV vitamins and everybody, but everybody is on one or another kind of special diet. Oh, and people have 'issues'.
I have no idea if this picture is realistic, satirically overdone but fundamentally true to life or totally overblown, but it's all very funny, and of course the funniest thing is that nobody bats an eyelid at even the most convoluted 'lifestyle choices' which are taken for granted by all involved. Only the immigrant donut shop owner (his nationality stays annoyingly and unnecessarily unspecified but it's possible to work it out later on) provides an occasional commentary.
Of all the bizarre compulsions and lifestyle foibles the people engage in; I had a strong inkling that food played some kind of symbolic role in the whole story. Every time Richard reconnected with the rest of humanity he seemed to be eating something resembling normal food, and not the controlled carb-free and red-meat free preparations of his private nutritionist. I even started wondering if this quasi-anorexic preoccupation with food wasn't a metaphor for the desire to control everything in life, and to produce the illusion of controlling death which seems to be a major spiritual disease of America in general.
All of that is written in a plain, cool, unemotional, almost ascetic prose. The contrast between utter bizarreness of the most of the events and the detached style is what makes "This Book Will Save Your Life" a bit more refined pleasure than the story itself would suggest. Also, the title leads me to suspect that the subject of Richard's 'recovery' is as much the target of Homes' satire as the artificial lives of the rich in the LA. I also couldn't help noticing that many of Richard's good deeds wouldn't be possible if he wasn't rich and didn't need to work. But that might be going to far.
If I was to summarise I would say it's a bit like a Pretty Woman for intellectuals, though there is no love element in Richard's resurrection. Very readable, not very demanding and exceedingly well written, "This Book Will Save Your Life" is certainly worth reading, but perhaps better borrowed than bought.
Granta books paperback, 380 pages.
Amazon's best price £2.40 or buy new for £3.99.