Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray is being compared to Gail Honeyman’s popular 2017 novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I’d also suggest similarities to The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris and The Cactus by Sarah Haywood.
The likeness—I suspect—is drawn because the lead character Amy is quirky. And rather prickly. She’s a hoarder and her life has become so focused on her accumulation of things that she’s retreated into herself and her home, and adept pushing people away.
Everything is Beautiful
by Eleanor Ray
Published by Hachette Australia
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
When Amy Ashton's world came crashing down eleven years ago, she started a collection. Just a little collection, just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot .
Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.
Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves - soon there'll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery long buried, and Amy's carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she'd lost still be hers for the taking?
Ray takes us back in time in fits and starts to give context to the Amy we meet in the present. She was an artist and had big dreams. But she fell in love with a wannabe musician and eventually gave up her dream to support him. I won’t give too much away but things end badly and Amy has her heart broken. And not just by her boyfriend.
Eleven years have passed since the events that sent Amy into the proverbial tailspin and Ray does a good job at explaining how her coping mechanisms – putting together a collection of treasures or keepsakes – became an obsession and resulted in the Amy we meet.
Like some of the other prickly and uncomfortable characters I mention (from similar novels) earlier, she’s not a bad person. And even though she’s determined to be mean to some of those around her, she isn’t. Ray creates a very real and engaging lead in Amy and I appreciated the humour and sympathy she’s able to engender.
In the present we meet Amy at home and Amy at work. The debilitating need to hold onto things she suffers at home isn’t an issue at work, though she keeps to herself and is somewhat rigid and obsessive. But she’s been with the company nearly two decades and respected. Her world there is interrupted however with a new arrival and potential romance.
And at home she has new neighbours. She’s got a difficult relationship with another neighbour who knows about Amy’s hoarding and I liked that Ray didn’t eke out the whole ‘people discovering her secrets’ scenario cos that would have felt predictable and has been done to death. Her new neighbours quickly learn about Amy’s habits and history and I welcomed the lack of explanations and secret-keeping.
I mentioned in a recent book review (Other People’s Houses by Kelli Hawkins) that I could sympathise with both the lead character who’s suffered trauma and those around them, and it’s the same here. I can understand her neighbour and others wanting to help Amy make changes to her life, but I could also understand the level of comfort and control (her hoarding and isolation) affords her and wondered if she doesn’t want to change, why should she?
In the midst of this upheaval Amy’s still wondering about the events of 11 years earlier and disappearance of the love of her life.
I wasn’t sure where Ray was going to go with this part of the storyline. There were a couple of options and I felt they’d either be obvious or anticlimactic. But she takes this somewhere I really didn’t expect. And in all honesty I’m not sure I liked it. I mean, you’d think some intrigue would pique my own but it came from left field so though not predictable, was a little… unsettling.
That being said, for me this was less about solving the old mystery and more about Amy – a character study of someone going through something they’re unable and unwilling to release – and I most certainly enjoyed that element.
Everything is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.