Ellen in Pieces by Caroline Adderson is my favourite novel of 2014! It is laugh-out- loud funny, sexy, and very moving. The word that first comes to mind is delicious. The novel is a gossipy treat, entertaining as hell, but at the same time brilliantly written with an unforgettable lead. It is also a story about women’s friendships, how important intimate friends are to women and how our friends sustain us. If that sounds like chick lit, it’s not. Men would be equally intrigued by this rippingly good read.
Ellen is a hopelessly flawed character and yet despite her flaws, or perhaps because of them, she is wonderfully loveable, the kind of woman you’d kill to have as a friend, though you might not trust your husband around her. Oh the mistakes she makes, gargantuan ones that make you stop reading for a moment and shake your head. She did what????
Yes, Ellen is a major screw-up, but she’s first in a long line of loveable screw-ups in the novel, her lost, much too young lover, her feckless husband and troubled daughter, and even her women friends; each have made choices that that mess up their lives and complicate their relationships with Ellen. Yet what comes across in this novel is how human and humane, each of Adderson’s characters are, so much so by the end of the book, you hate to leave this story world and wish for even a few more pages to devour.
Ellen in Pieces is the perfect title for the novel. The structure is composed of a series of short stories. Each of these stories can stand on its own and yet read together presents multiple viewpoints of Ellen at various times in her life. Ellen in Pieces is a kaleidoscopic view of a woman’s life, rich in colour and light with changing patterns that surprise at every turn.
The structure of ‘Ellen’ reminds me of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge. The latter is told in a series of short chapters, in multiple voices, circling around the uptight and grumpy schoolteacher, Olive.
Both novels are love stories, love dressed in many outfits, love in regret and pain and finally in a quiet happiness. Ellen and Olive may be polar opposites, but the compassion shown by Strout and Adderson towards their characters are what stays with us and renders both novels unforgettable.