BLEAKER HOUSE by Nell Stevens


Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
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On a remote island, a young writer assesses her talents and her dreams.

Completing an MFA degree at Boston University, Stevens was awarded a three-month fellowship to travel anywhere in the world to work on the novel she was determined to write. Deciding that she needed complete solitude, she chose to travel 9,000 miles from her native England to the Falkland Islands—in winter. In her delightful literary debut, Stevens chronicles life among the penguins and caracara birds on Bleaker Island, population 3, where for weeks she was the only inhabitant. “I wanted to find out everything about myself,” she confesses, “not just the profound and often boring things to do with childhood memories and self-respect, but also the practical stuff, like what my first book will actually be about.” But that revelation eluded her as she concocted a trite narrative about a young man who travels to the Falklands in search of a father he thought was dead. Stevens intersperses chapters from the novel-in-progress and, as she readily admits, it is indeed dreadful. The memoir, though, is fresh and spirited. She spent several weeks in Stanley, the Falklands’ capital, a desolate city with “no cinema, no theatre, no evening entertainment” except for seven pubs. “By ten o’clock most nights, everyone is exceedingly drunk,” she learned. And often they drive their Land Rovers into one of many deep drainage ditches. Stevens was eyed with distrust by residents who believe “that foreigners who come in and ask questions are bad news.” Journalists and Argentinians are especially suspect. The owners of the guesthouse on Bleaker Island were welcoming, though, and Stevens learned how to spin yarn from sheep’s wool, herd pregnant cattle, and find her way home in a fierce storm. Lively flashbacks round out a memoir that might have been too tightly focused on desolation and failure. At the end of her island experience, she reports happily, “I have freed myself of a bad book. I will write a better one now.”

This engaging debut fulfills her confident prediction.

Pub Date: March 14th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-385-54155-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2017


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