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Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End…
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Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World (2017)

by Nell Stevens

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https://msarki.tumblr.com/post/157729821208/bleaker-house-chasing-my-novel-to-the-end-of-the

What a great title and promising concept. So much to get excited about in advance of even reading the first page. But then delving in, and feeling immersed, proves disappointing and not to be in the cards. Truth is, just because the author is a professor of writing does not guarantee a good read. Or the fact the lettered writer won a prize. These teachers of fiction have contributed mightily to littering our world with useless books and done their part to heap our landfills. But all is not lost however for any writing student interested in examples of what not to do. Exhibits abound in this text, and for the most part, continue on for the book’s duration as proof. Evidence that is disjointed, disoriented, annoying, jumbled, ill prepared, and somewhat a frustrating bore. It is more promising if a writer is at least interesting, or has a personality a reader could not possibly ignore. But when each willful attempt at sitting down for another page of reading becomes the most disagreeable moment of the day this collusion with hope that the work will get better turns ill-advised. And time to put it down for good. ( )
  MSarki | Jan 7, 2018 |
a few years ago, i wrote this in a review for With or Without You:

"so, i think there's a fine line to the art of a good memoir. especially from a writer who is not very well-known. on one side: a writer who has had experiences that suck and emerges triumphant (or some reasonable facsimile thereof). on the other side: a story driven by ego... but at the end, i was left wondering what was the point of the book? ... to me, there still needs to be a purpose beyond 'i survived'."

i firmly stand by this when it comes to memoir writing. it is such a fine line, and it's really tricky to navigate well.

stevens didn't do a great job here, unfortunately. sure, her writing has lovely moments, the setting on bleaker island is fascinating, and the tie to dickens' bleak house cool, but there were way too many problems with the flow of the book, and the self-indulgent whining of this privileged author that overshadowed this read for me. (seriously, sorry to be negative like that!!!!!)

within the memoir are three works of fiction. one, the novel-in-progress stevens hopes to complete during her writing sabbatical, and the other two... short stories i guess? one seems to focus on amy winehouse. the inclusion of the novel-in-progress made some sense as stevens works to her deadline and the return to her regular life. but the other two works were just awkward.

this is a book that could be appreciated by writers longing to have the gift of dedicated time to work on their project(s)... but i am still puzzling out the value of this work to a broader audience? given the decision stevens makes about her fiction, and her reason for choosing the falkland islands (and realizing a nonfiction book based on her journal entries while on bleaker was the way to go), i wish there was more about bleaker and the falkland islands. it is a place not well known to most, and a place that captures the imagination. it would have been great to have had a more outward looking, empathetic story.

anyway... i had such high hopes for this book, but just didn't like it as much as i had hoped. ( )
  Booktrovert | Jul 11, 2017 |
After completing her MFA in fiction from Boston College, Nell Stevens receives the opportunity of a lifetime. For three months, she can live anywhere in the world, all expenses paid, in order to research and write a book. While most people in her position would choose a city like Paris or the sunny beaches of a tropical island, Nell decides to travel to the Falkland Islands with the hope that the isolation and cold weather will force her to focus on creating a great novel. With a limited supply of food, nobody to talk to, and no tweezers or conditioner, Nell finds out that writing a book in 3 months under these conditions might be harder than she originally thought.

This book is a mix of Nell's time spent on the Falkland Islands, memories from her past, and fictional stories including excerpts from the book she was writing on Bleaker Island. I found Nell's descriptions of her writing process and her 3 months in the Falkland Islands fascinating. I liked that she chose an unusual place to visit and loved reading about this part of the world from her perspective. While the fictional parts of the book sometimes dragged on, I am glad that they were included as a sample of her writing. I do think Nell's strength though is writing about her life and experiences rather than fictional characters.

I received a free copy of this book from Doubleday and that is my honest review. ( )
  fastforward | Apr 5, 2017 |
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! ( )
  unabridgedchick | Mar 15, 2017 |
In Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World author Nell Stevens writes about spending three months in the Falkland Islands, during the winter, all in pursuit of writing her first novel. This memoir is a very highly recommended compilation of her life, visiting the Falklands, and her first book.

After completing an MFA degree at Boston University, Nell Stevens is offered a fellowship that allows her to live, all expenses paid, anywhere in the world while she writes her first book. Others may choose Paris or a retreat, but Stevens decides to go to Bleaker Island in the Falklands, located on the southern tip of South America in the Antarctic waters of the South Atlantic - during the winter months. She chose this because she felt like it would be the perfect way to eliminate distractions and help her focus on writing her novel.

After staying for several weeks in Stanley , the capital (which has little to offer, but does have seven pubs) she learns about the residents great mistrust of Argentinians and journalists, and the careful records kept of family trees due to the limited population. Stevens then proceeds on to Bleaker Island where she is the only guest in a guest house. The island is either population 1 (Stevens) or three when the owners are on the island.

"Why do you do it to yourself?" wonders her mother. A novelist friend helps answer the question, "That's the thing about being a writer. Every bad experience you have is good material."

The only way for Stevens to get to Bleaker is by air, which means that Stevens has to pack in all her provisions for her stay and there is a weight limit. She has carefully packed enough food for 1,085 calories a day, which requires counting out her daily ration of raisins and almonds. On the island she tries to write her novel surrounded by sheep, penguins, caracara birds, and cattle on the stormy, snow and sleet covered wind swept island. And she does start a novel - a terribly bad novel.

I found Bleaker House entertaining and engaging. In it Stevens creates a mosaic of her writing life. She has compiled pieces of ideas together among the stories of her travels, observations, and experiences on Bleaker that include snippets from other fictional writing she's done, life experiences and stories, writing while at a job, and parts of the novel she wrote on Bleaker. While she doesn't come away with a good novel, she did leave the island with a book. It is a wonderfully insightful and honest look at the creative struggles behind writing a novel that includes wry humor, writing advice she's received, personal anecdotes, and how you can't escape yourself even when you are the only one on a remote island.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Knopf Doubleday. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Feb 22, 2017 |
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To Margaret and Richard
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In my first year as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick, the English Department secretary circulates an "opportunity".
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385541554, Hardcover)

A whimsical blend of memoir and travelogue, laced with wry writing advice, Bleaker House is a story of creative struggle that brilliantly captures the self-torture of the writing life.
 
Twenty-seven-year-old Nell Stevens was determined to write a novel, but life kept getting in the way. Then came a game-changing opportunity: she won a fellowship that would let her spend three months, all expenses paid, anywhere in the world to research and write a book. Would she choose a glittering metropolis, a romantic village, an exotic paradise? Not exactly. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a snowy, windswept pile of rock in the Falklands. There, in a guesthouse where she would be the only guest, she could finally rid herself of distractions and write. In three months, surely she’d have a novel.
     And sure enough, other than sheep, penguins, paranoia, and the weather, there aren’t many distractions on Bleaker. Nell gets to work on a delightful Dickensian fiction she calls Bleaker House—only to discover that total isolation and 1100 calories a day are far from ideal conditions for literary production. With deft humor, the memoir traces Nell’s island days and slowly reveals details of the life and people she has left behind in pursuit of her writing. They pop up in her novel, too, and in other fictional pieces that dot the book. It seems that there is nowhere Nell can run—an island or the pages of her notebook—to escape the big questions of love, art and ambition.
     As Nell races to finish her book, Bleaker House marks the arrival of a remarkable literary talent.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 25 Sep 2016 14:40:45 -0400)

"A whimsical blend of memoir and travelogue, laced with wry and indispensable writing advice, Bleaker House is a story of creative struggle that brilliantly captures the self-torture of the writing life. Twenty-seven-year-old Nell Stevens was determined to write a novel, but somehow life kept getting in the way. Then came a game-changing opportunity: she won a fellowship that let her spend three months, all expenses paid, anywhere in the world to research and write a book. Would she choose a glittering metropolis, a romantic village, an exotic paradise? Um, no. Nell chose Bleaker Island, a snowy, windswept pile of rock in the Falklands. There, in a guesthouse where she would be the only guest, she could finally rid herself of distractions and write her 2,500 words a day. In three months, surely she'd have a novel. And sure enough, other than sheep, penguins, paranoia, and the weather, there aren't many distractions on Bleaker. Nell gets to work on her novel--a delightful Dickensian fiction she calls Bleaker House--only to discover that an excruciatingly erratic internet connection and 1100 calories a day (as much food as she could carry in her suitcase, budgeted to the raisin) are far from ideal conditions for literary production. With deft humor, the memoir traces Nell's island days and slowly reveals details of the life and people she has left behind in pursuit of her art. They pop up in her novel, as well, and in other fictional pieces that dot the book. It seems that there is nowhere Nell can run--an island or the pages of her notebook--to escape herself. With winning honesty and wit, Nell's race to finish her book slowly emerges as an irresistible narrative in its own right"--… (more)

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