Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

First line: This is a landscape an art-therapy patient might paint to represent depression: grey sky and a sweep of featureless peat rising out of the sea.

Pretty much the moment I laid eyes on the cover of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. And then when I learned the premise -- a memoir of a novelist who spent three months on an isolated island in the Falklands wrestling with her novel -- I knew I seriously had to read it.

Upon finishing her MFA, Nell Stevens learns that there's funding to support her traveling anywhere in the world so she may work on her writing for three months. Craving time alone, Stevens settles on Bleaker Island, part of the Falklands. Her memoir shifts between her time on Bleaker, her time before Bleaker, snippets of her novel in progress as well as other fiction, and other ephemera (like her travel proposal, with snarky annotations).

Her narrative style is just lovely, quotable sentence after quotable sentence (you can read a long excerpt of the hilarious first chapter at Vogue), and I don't think this will only appeal to aspiring writers. It's travel writing at it's best: vivid, funny, extreme, centered in place and peppered with piquant people.

I loved Stevens' honesty about herself and her experience on Bleaker, and her open insecurity about her writing, her skill as a writer, and her future as a writer really struck me in the tender places where I'm anxious about my writing.

Much like My Year With Eleanor, Stevens and her story will undoubtedly hit some readers the wrong way. Something about young women doing daring things, occasionally unsuccessfully, will do that, and even I fall into the trap of being irritated by a blithe narrator. But in this case, I was one million percent with Stevens every step of her journey, and as a result, this book really touched and moved me.

This will be one of my top ten reads of 2017, I'm confident, as I literally couldn't shut up about it -- my wife said I mentioned it four times to her in one evening!

Title: Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
Author: Nell Stevens

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Contemporary / Creative Writing / Falkland Islands / Writers on Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Doubleday Books (3/14/17)
Source: NetGalley


  1. This sounds like something I'd love too!

    1. I really inhaled it in, like, two days, and gabbed about it for two weeks. Just delightful. Hope you get to read it!

  2. Ohh I will have to check that one out. thanks