Book Review – Everything Is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray

First published, 2021

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story follows Amy, a thwarted artist, office worker, and heartbroken hoarder. Keeping her own counsel while the neighbours gossip about the state of her house (which they can only see, fleetingly, as she enters and exits through the front door) and her terracotta-pot-crammed garden, Amy is pretty well alone.

Having been deserted by her boyfriend and best friend who presumably ran off together eleven years ago, Amy has found consolation in the acquisition of things: primarily bottles, newspapers, cigarette lighters, ashtrays and cookbooks. Their usefulness is best explained by the fact that Amy neither cooks nor smokes. Amy is, however, able to get around her house, by virtue of the narrow path she has created between her items.

But when a cat and the new neighbour kids unearth a precious unreceived present from the jumble of the garden, the mystery of what really happened to the missing Tim and Chantel comes dashing to the fore. With her life otherwise at something of a standstill, will Amy find out the truth of their betrayal? And will she finally be able to let go?

A lovely little novel, and Christmas present from my near-as-dammit mother-in-law, I really enjoyed the character of Amy. Her little irritations, like other people’s preoccupation with winking and emojis raised a smile of recognition with me. And her part-time rivalry with chattery neighbour Rachel was very well-observed.

“Both women were distracted by the growl of a large engine. Their little street of suburban terraced two-up two-down rarely saw much traffic, and they both turned to watch as a large moving van pulled in.
“‘Old Mrs Hill’s place. It must be,’ said Rachel. The women enjoyed a temporary truce as they watched the van attempt to park.
“Amy missed Mrs Hill. She’d been the perfect neighbour, quiet and undemanding. Even when Amy had shared the house with Tim and Chantel, they’d never made it beyond a gentle nod of greeting and an occasional muttered ‘hello’ if either was feeling particularly gregarious. In fact, she didn’t even notice that Mrs Hill was gone until her grown-up children turned up one day to fill up their cars with her possessions. Sad as she’d been, there followed a glorious time with no neighbours at all on that side, a luxury rarely afforded in the area. Then the ‘For Sale’ sign was replaced with a triumphant boast from the estate agent. Sold.
“And now, here they were. Her new neighbours.
“Well, not exactly. Two men in bright blue overalls emerged from the truck and opened it up. ‘I’m going to see if they’d like a cuppa,’ said Rachel, trotting over to the van. She turned back to Amy as she went. ‘Sort out the mice or I will be forced to report you. I mean it this time.’
p12, Chapter One, Everything Is Beautiful by Eleanor Ray

Some years back, I visited my honorary granddad, Ivor, when he went into a retirement home and I brought him a couple of beers and a bottle opener. He hadn’t asked for any of it and I hadn’t given it that much thought. It just seemed like a decent enough gift to bring along. A handful of friends told me, at the time and since, with knowing smiles, that I was awful. In that very Dick Emery way.

In my defence, it was only a couple of bottles and nobody told me there were rules about what you could bring. Of course, it makes sense if you think about it: alcohol’s interaction with certain medications, the absence of locks in the old folks’ home making the presence of booze unwelcome for those residents with strong beliefs or dependency issues. As I say, it makes sense if you think about it. I just didn’t think about it. But when I read about Amy visiting Arnold in the retirement home and, on his instruction, emptying a bottle of red wine she’d sneaked in, into an empty bottle of Ribena, I laughed. You know, I’m sure half those fruit-cage water bottles are just cider with decorations.

Although there was a short section of discussion questions for books clubs – which I generally dislike (I’ve been in book clubs, we can talk without being led), it was swiftly followed by a lovely section of snippets from the contributors to the book (editors, cover designer, marketing people) talking about items they’ve hung onto that would be deemed ‘clutter’ by anyone else.

A sweet surprise of a book.