My daughter Abby has the unique gift of comparing humans to animals. She studies a person, then comes up with the best animal comparison ever. She’s spot on every time, sending us into howls of laughter.
Sometimes I come across two or three wildly different books that have one or two similarities worth comparing. This time it’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix, and The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay.
The Austen Escape and The Space Between Words are classified as Christian fiction, both published by Thomas Nelson and written by established authors. Eleanor Oliphant is general-market fiction published by Viking; it’s Honeyman’s debut novel. Each book took me by surprise in elegant and startling ways.
All three books feature a protagonist who has experienced trauma. Eleanor Oliphant’s childhood in Scotland was one long trauma, at the center of which is an event that would have put almost anyone into institutional care.
In The Space Between Words, Jessica is wounded during the horrific shootings at the Bataclan in Paris in 2014. Not long after her release from the hospital, she embarks on a trip across France with her friend Patrick. They’re searching for treasures for Patrick’s vintage home goods store when Jessica discovers letters from Adeline Baillard, a long-dead Huguenot woman persecuted for her faith. This begins a journey through time to tell her story.
In The Austin Escape, Mary Davies accompanies her friend Isabel Dwyer on a two-week trip to Bath and a complete immersion into the world of Jane Austen. Isabel is writing her dissertation on Austen and hopes the immersion will help break her writer’s block. Mary’s well-ordered world—she’s an engineer—is thrown into chaos amid Regency dresses and long-buried secrets.
Eleanor Oliphant takes place in Scotland; The Space Between Words in France; The Austen Escape in Texas and England. The protagonists are smart, talented women; each one has an off-beat love interest whom the authors don’t force upon readers and who play second-fiddle to the real stories of healing.
Most importantly, all three books have a hidden side that will startle you and cause you to rethink the characters’ motives and actions. There’s no way I’m spoiling those revelations here, but suffice it to say that you’ll be confused along the way, challenged, and sighing with delight at each book’s end.
Each one of these books made me think more about trauma and its consequences, how we handle trauma, and how we heal from its effects. I came away thoroughly entertained, with deeper understanding, and eager to read more from the authors.
If you’ve read any of these books, I would love to hear your comments. If you’ve read all three, tell us how you would compare them—without revealing secrets!
I love, love, love Eleanor Oliphant — the book and the character. I’d like to meet her for tea. She is hilarious and poignant and insightful. And you’re right — the story of growth and healing is so beautifully done. And Raymond! What an awesome guy/character. Such a decent, quirky guy. I feel like I know him. If the other two books are just as good, I’ll have to check them out.
Eleanor Oliphant is my favorite of the three. I, too, adore Eleanor. I want to read that book once a year! If you love Jane Austin, read Katherine Reay. If you love time jump novels, read Michele Phoenix.