“If the sea that swallowed them both did not exist, Agnes would weep and invent it.”
From Eleanor by Jason Gurley
I just finished reading Jason Gurley’s phenomenal new novel, Eleanor. It’s inspired me to start blogging about indie books – something I promised (myself) I would do since many mainstream book review sites won’t consider self-published novels. So, this is my first official indie book review post, but definitely not my last. Full disclosure: I will only review books I like and highly recommend.
Now for the important stuff.
Eleanor started making waves even before its official release on June 27th, 2014. Amazon had a preorder button for it and the book had accrued over one hundred reviews on both Amazon and more than 20 on Goodreads before the official release date – quite a feat for an independent self-published author. The reviews are overwhelmingly glowing – and with good reason – Jason’s book is masterful, original and inspiring on many levels.
The premise defies categorization. I will say that it’s solidly literary in that the writing is exquisite. Beyond that, it could happily coexist in multiple categories including paranormal and possibly fantasy. But my feeling is that the author uses the elements of fantasy and the paranormal to further the ultimate story, which is – at its core – about family tragedy, emotional heartache and the ability for the human spirit to heal. Mr. Gurley’s writing is poetic and deliberate. Here’s an excerpt from a passage I absolutely loved, and is a great example of the kind of poignant, vivid imagery that is present throughout the book:
The earth here has never forgotten its pain. It cradles the heat of its own death, always just beneath the surface, as though releasing the memory would be to forget it forever, to risk succumbing to the fresh hell of fire again and again.
I mean..DAMN that’s good.
The plot in brief: Eleanor‘s main protagonist is a 14-year-old girl named Eleanor who has survived a horrific tragedy that’s torn her family apart. Eleanor’s story begins before she’s born, when we get a glimpse of a tragedy that befell her own mother and shaped how her mother (in turn) relates to Eleanor and reacts to the tragedy at the start of the book. I’m being really careful here not to give anything away because Mr. Gurley very deliberately sets the pace and direction of the book by introducing these two dual tragedies early on.
The story quickly takes a supernatural turn, bringing the main character into different worlds via portals that appear, drawing her within them, throughout the book. This book is absolutely un-put-downable once you’re around 40% into it, but I will say that I read the first third of the book with a terrible lump in my throat. The tragedies are vividly real and emotional, and the characters’ pain so exquisitely depicted that I found myself reluctant to continue because it was so real. There is a lot of pain in my own life right now due to my daughter’s battle with cancer, so this is definitely my own personal, visceral reaction and is not meant to discourage anyone from reading the book! In fact, I’m glad I continued reading. My initial reaction was really a testament to Mr. Gurley’s skill as a writer and story teller.
As a reader, this book met every single possible expectation I could have had – great writing (flawless, really), great and very original plot, and a meaningful ending that tied the various threads of the story together nicely. The book, written in the third person present (my least favorite tense) had an ethereal otherworldly quality to it that was a perfect match for the tense. It changed my mind about third person present, actually – it was another tool that Mr. Gurley used to turn this into a masterpiece which is sure to win more than one writing award.
As a writer, this book taught me a lot about great writing and what I personally aspire to with my own stories. I love that it doesn’t fit one particular mold, and isn’t afraid to be character driven within the realm of fantasy and the supernatural – something (quite frankly) you just don’t often see.
I highly recommend this book and will be eagerly looking forward to Mr. Gurley’s next work. In fact, I am now solidly a fan. You can purchase it on Amazon or get a signed copy from Mr. Gurley’s web site.