Book Review: Skive

Today I am going to take a break from writing about my oh so thrilling life to review a book that is rapidly becoming one of my favourite reads.

A brief introduction from my first impressions:

I like this book because I think it has astutely picked up on many life gripes and constricting societal conventions that many people can relate to, voicing thoughts that many of us have but cannot say aloud without consequence. In addition to the overall themes that resonate throughout the narrative, there is often comedic relief to some of the darker scenes and a dry wit that is consistent in the narrator, and often induces laugh out loud moments- perfectly balancing this novel as a dark comedy.

Hopefully this has intrigued you enough to stop reading this blog post and immediately download Skive from the amazon kindle store, if not, let’s see if I can adequately entice you further with my review.

Book: Skive

Author: Paul Adam Levy

Where to buy it: Amazon Kindle Store If you don’t have a kindle, you can download the app to your mac or tablet device – IOS and android– So really you have no excuse as to why you can’t buy it- ‘I like a book in my hands’ is a crappy reason not to read a good book.

So back to the review. Where to start. Well I guess an overview of the narrative would be a good place to begin. I say plenty below, let’s give you the blurb as a further enticement seeing as I doubt any of you have yet clicked the amazon link… Am I right?

Skive is a black comedy that introduces a dysfunctional man who, disillusioned with his boring, hum drum life working in a supermarket, is thrown into panic when an unexpected opportunity is offered to him. Suddenly, he feels trapped in a life he wishes to escape. 

A snap decision to flee from the routine and boredom finds him on an unplanned, ill-thought through journey on the streets of London, searching for an elusive dream. He observes with wit and cynicism a way of life he never could have imagined.

So here’s my review, but mostly my analysis, which you may very well disagree with, but you’ll have to read the book to do so.

Skive follows a male protagonist who is clearly not much of a people person, but is very funny in his observations of others and humanity as a whole. I think one of the things I quite like about this book are the many candid observations of characters that everyone makes in day to day life, the stereotypes, the ‘sheep’ nature that every human being defaults to just to fit in within society. And this is how the protagonist both fights against and completely submits/defines himself by these expectations. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself again, you need more context.

The story starts by following the protagonist to his menial, very repetitive job at a supermarket. I hate to say it but most of us have been there or are there doing the kind of job that can drive anyone crazy. This is addressed very nicely in the motif of pears.

“I stacked pears on top of pears, pears under pears and pears next to pears.”

I think this is one of the things that resonates beautifully throughout the book, the pointlessness of such a job can be applied to life, life is pointless, we do these jobs, we stack our pears, we come home, we sleep, we stack some more pears, all for money to chase a dream, a lifestyle, an expectation, until we eventually die. A little bleak yes, a tad existentialist, probably, but truthful? Absolutely.

So early on in the narrative, our protagonist has a moment that anyone living in ignorant bliss of life would be thrilled to have, but for the protagonist it is a step too far and something snaps, his patience has run out, his “black eels” take control and he quits his job (the spark plug of the moment). This is just the start of a series events that lead to our protagonist roaming the streets of London surviving as a homeless man.

The “black eels’ motif runs throughout as an excellent visualisation of what I think most people quite often feel. The moments when something inside you rebels against external forces, whether a boss shouting at you, or a job you don’t want to do becoming too much, or simply the guy you sit next pissing you off. I think we all spend a decent amount of time suppressing our black eels, some more than others. Those lucky enough to not really know what I’m talking about are probably euphorically happy, never get angry or do anything wrong- you can pat yourself on the back you’ve achieved Sainthood. The ones who let their eels take control are probably borderline, if not totally insane, which is another theme that we follow throughout this protagonist’s journey. While he tries to control his “black eels”, he is constantly teetering on the line between sane and insane, add a little dehydration and starvation to the mix and it often feels like he’s slipped more into the insane side of the pool.

And while this seems like a very dark and depressing story, it is weirdly upbeat and highly amusing. The protagonist has dry humour through his candid observations and often says the things that we all think but do not say aloud. There are scenes of comical genius, my personal favourite is one that takes place on the tube. As a London commuter, I could both relate to it and wish I had the balls to do the same. The same as what you ask? You’ll have to read it to find out.

While our ‘hero’ of the story is ‘driven’ to this state of living, or what he perceives as his only choice of living through self-punishment, shame, and societal pressures and constructs of right and wrong, you don’t ever feel that he has found the freedom that he craved, the answers that he sought. Each event, scene, moment just demonstrates that really when you leave one way of living, you only swap it for another with different rules, constrictions, oppressions, and judgements. Essentially, I think, what he is trying to escape is not society and its structures, but the confinements of life. We’re born, we eat, we sleep, we work, we die. On the streets, there is no relief from that. Just little comforts, a different kind of work, and a different sense of the ‘self’ as someone rejected by society.

His journey is a unique one, and a circular one at that, but what I enjoyed about this book is the way that it looks at the world, at people- it takes you into a different perspective, a very witty perspective, a dark perspective, an unusual perspective of how to view life. This book, for me, is very reminiscent of some of my favourite post-war writers such as Patrick Hamilton, George Orwell and Earnest Hemingway, all exemplifying disjointedness, isolation and disillusionment in a world that makes very little sense to most of us who stop to look at it, trying to find rhyme and reason outside of the daily grind.

Maybe I just have quite a cynical outlook on life and you are all sitting there thinking, “what is she on about ‘black eels’, I don’t have black eels”. Well, you are probably a better person than me, and I am talking universally about my own life experience, but I’m then again, I’m pretty sure you would have had to have reached saint status and have lived under a rock to not relate to at least some themes/ideas covered in this book.

I guess that wasn’t your traditional book review and I have probably bored you all to death with an analysis on life- who cares? Well, you should care, but more importantly, you should enjoy everything this book has to offer. Whether you read between the lines, or read at face value, Skive is thoroughly entertaining and incredibly engaging. And the more I harp on about it, the more it is gaining favourite book status, and that’s very high praise indeed, but maybe that’s just me.


My Struggles with Health

So I sat down to write today  (we finally have internet in the new flat) and all I can think about is the long year I have had with my health. With my disability, I often feel like I am held back in a body that hinders me and lets me down. My brain is telling me I can do anything but I quite often get to something and realise I can’t.

A small example of this would be getting a hammer and nail ready, picking the point on the wall and then realising that I need two hands, one to hold the nail and the other to hammer…ahh duh! But that’s the story of my life and I take these hinderances in my stride, shrug it off, and laugh about the fact that there are just some things that I can’t do.

This year however has been a tough one with other health issues. I’ve barely make it a few months without something cropping up and smiting me down. Aside from various periods of RSI, some lasting months, other lasting a week or so, I had a series of kidney infections as well as bronchitis (that saw me go for emergency nebuliser treatment).

The most recent hiccup was simply a change in the weather aggravated my asthma for four days where I was permanently breathless and had to take a trip to a&e for another nebuliser treatment (two in one year after years of none), and a course of steroids (eek). It was a hairy week for me this week, apparently frequent and shallow breathes makes you incredibly dizzy and there was a few moments where I almost went down. Scary stuff.

I powered through and made it to work as I just couldn’t afford to miss anymore, and I’m sick of my body dictating my quality of life. The latest has baffled me the most. I’ve had asthma my whole life but I’ve never had attack quite so severe other than when I had bronchitis. The bronchitis made sense, there was crap in my lungs. This time round, I have no idea, all I can say is that I think I may be getting less resilient to stuff as I get older, which is utterly depressing.

So while this is a bit of a ‘poor me and my string of ailments’ post, there is something beneficial that comes from all this crap- the moment you feel better. It is easy to fall into a trap of daily life where you don’t get off your ass and do stuff because you can’t be bothered. When that is taken away from you, and then you get the freedom back, for me, I get hyper, pro-active and unbelievably happy. It’s a reminder to not become complacent in life, I’m 24, it’s the time to enjoy everything and achieve all that I can.

I think stress is probably quite a big factor in health, and I’m not the best at letting stress go, and it has been a tough year. Although my recent break-up has offered some relief, moving house, settling somewhere new with a new life has been an adjustment, on top of which, work has brought added stress. I’m still finding my way in the world, and generally it sucks being an adult. You don’t really believe your parents when they say it’s tough, I always thought my mother was being melodramatic. She wasn’t. On the the other hand, wouldn’t life be really dull if it was easy all the time?

Something for you to chew on.

Reconnecting With Me

It  has been a very long time since I sat down at my computer and felt inspired to write. I started this blog to share my experiences, my challenges, my past and hopefully my present, and somewhere along the way of transitioning from student to working professional, as well as taking a leap with my now ex-boyfriend to live together, I find I have become lost in the process. So I am back to the beginning, doing the thing I love, writing.

A quick recap on where I’ve been for the last year and a half: I interned at two companies working in social media and editorial roles. I was offered a job as a content writer for a digital agency (couldn’t have been a better fit career-wise) and I am now coming up to a year working at this agency.

The working world has had its ups and downs, I have suffered on and off with RSI (Repetitive Strain injury) which as you can imagine with one working hand, is possibly the one of hardest things to survive through- you never know how much you truly depend on something until it stops working the way it should! Lucky for me, the RSI comes and goes and I’m working out ways to stop it from getting really bad – generally trying to stay stress free helps!

So as mentioned above, that ex I moved in with, let’s tackle that saga. We had been together two and bit years, ups and downs but generally ok. I get the content writer job, we move in together and let’s say that was the nail in the coffin really. They say that moving in is a make or break for relationships, this was a break…a big break.

The crack was around six months ago when there was a discussion about leaving for a life that isn’t ‘settling down’ (came after a traveling holiday that I couldn’t join him for- he got the travel bug), the crux of it was that he wasn’t sure if he wanted me to come with him and was unsure about us as whole (a bit of a blow at the time).

We took some time, tried to make it work, but ultimately the end was nigh. While I think he knew it wasn’t right during this time, I needed this period to prepare, adjust and move on and now I am ready. I somehow manage to fall for men with some serious fear of commitment, I hold on thinking that it will change, it never does, I only end up hurt. But on the plus side, you live and learn and I’m ready to move on with my life- the next exciting chapter is waiting to be written, so its time to pick up the pen.

That is pretty much all that’s happened- it’s been a bit of a roller coaster but with a new home will come a new leaf full of possibilities. So I am going to lay out some late new year’s resolutions as it has been a crappy start to 2014 and I am going to start it fresh from here:

1) Get stuck into writing my half-started novel

2) Actually keep writing my blog

3) Say yes to as many opportunities as possible

4) Date (never really done this before- eek)

5) Become ridiculously fit (exercise not vanity)

6) Get better at standing up for myself-  my push over days are over

7) Continue working on being the best person I can be.

So those are my goals for this year as reconnect with the person I am, rather than the person I’ve been living. I am a survivor, I have no choice (nor does anyone for that matter), but sometimes along the way (as with most people) little parts of us get lost, buried until something big shows us it’s time to go back and find them again- Carpe Diem bitches! We only get one life to live our lives as ourselves- don’t compromise on being you- individualism is probably one of the most stable things we should a posses as human beings, it is only external forces that make us question this.

Graduation Day

In two days time I officially graduate university with a 2.1 in English. Throughout my very gruelling final year, my focus and drive was set to this day, Graduation Day. I was working long soul destroying days with the goal of being able to dress up in a ridiculous robe, walk on a stage for 30 seconds, receive a certificate which certifies what I’ve already known since early June, that I am in fact graduating with a 2.1. During stress filled days and constant worry that I would not make it through, or at some point I would slip up and fail a module, all I could envisage was how fantastic I would feel on the day we officially graduate, how proud I would be of my achievement, how proud my parents would be. But now that its two days away, I’m not so much excited but rather dreading the whole experience. There are various factors to this dread that I feel.

Firstly I think my mother’s inability to not stress about travel and organisation of my friends and family is making me stress instead of being excited.

Secondly, I am dreading walking up on a stage in front of all the school of arts students and their families, not only am I bound to trip, there is going to be that awkward moment when the fancy official guy puts out his right hand to shake. What do I do? Do I walk up to him with my left hand out ready, with the hope that he will quickly switch? Do I in the last minute counteract his right hand with my left and hope he isn’t stubborn and changes his shaking hand? (You’d be surprised how many people refuse to switch their shaking hands on a matter of principle. If you are one of those people, next time someone extends their left hand, think about how maybe there is a reason for doing so, as many lefties will still shake with their right hand). Or finally do I do the awkward backward left hand to right hand shake so that everyone watching can wonder why I have given an awkward handshake? This is clearly a small thing, but it is always an awkward situation regardless of whether there are a few hundred people watching you or not.

Finally, my mixed feeling about graduation comes down to the fact that I feel, in part, graduating with a 2.1 is a bit of an anti-climax. Nearly everyone I made friends with at university is graduating with a 2.1, and after working so hard, I hoped I could get my grade up to a first. But every piece of coursework that came back as a B broke my heart a little bit more, each time, the first was getting further and further out of my reach. Don’t get me wrong, I know a 2.1 is fantastic, and in fact when I first came to uni a 2.1 was the dream. After watching my sister struggle with university and not manage to complete her degree, I was convinced that I would probably fail, never mind achieve a 2.1, because my sister was always the smarter, more academic sibling. Once I was at University and doing pretty well, I began to aspire for a first, especially when my boyfriend achieved a first at the end of my second year. I started to imagine how amazing it would feel if I could get one too, and maybe, for the first time in my life I could finally reach that top grade. I let myself get my hopes up and I yet again let myself down. I have always strived for excellence and done everything to the best of my ability, however, whether it be because of my disability in physical or creative activities, or my academic achievements, I always feel like I fall a little bit short of the finishing line.

This may sound incredibly whiny considering many people don’t manage to graduate, or achieve a lower grade, but when you truly work hard and apply yourself for something that you want with all your heart and you don’t quite make it, it is heart breaking. I am sure that many people often feel this way, not just myself, but because its complaining nature, lots of people don’t express their disappointment. I can’t help how I feel, and I may feel differently tomorrow or next week. If I don’t feel differently, I won’t hold it on my shoulders, and complain that if I’d only achieved a first I would have a higher paid job or whatever. Not getting what you want is a part of life, how you deal with it, how you pick yourself up and make the disappointment into a positive defines who you are, what you are capable of, it makes you stronger. Just by writing this blog, by writing my feelings down, feel more excited about graduating. I may not have the grade I wanted, but I am going to use my education to get a job that I enjoy, that I love. Finding a career that excites me, having the education and skills to pursue that job was my primary reason for doing my degree, and despite my feelings of under-achievement, I have never given up, and I will always pick myself up, brush myself off and continue to strive for excellence, for I am fairly certain one day I will achieve it.