Welcome to the November pick for the Fields & Fantasies book club! Each month or so, in collaboration with my wonderful co-host Diana of Strahbary’s Fields, we’ll pick one book to read and discuss. Today, we’re looking at Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney:
For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth….
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when a bump on the head leaves Angela with temporary amnesia, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways….
My two cents:
In this slice-of-life family drama, we meet a seemingly perfect family — and then get to see what they’re really like. When Angela sits down to write her annual Christmas letter, she’s stuck and completely flustered at the idea of producing yet another glib, sugar-coated interpretation of her family’s current events. Instead, she starts a stream-of-consciousness rant, covering everything from her adult daughters’ career troubles, affairs, and debts, to her 10-year-old son’s weirdness, to the wall of coldness that’s come between her and her husband Nick.
Angela never intends to send the letter — but in the midst of a family crisis, Nick thinks he’s helping Angela out by hitting “send” on her Christmas email. And thus begins a touching and funny tale that explores the power of communication and family love.
This domestic drama was a huge change of pace for me, after reading a lot of horror and thrillers recently — but in truth, I loved it.
First of all, you can’t tell from the synopsis, but Hello takes place on a sheep station in the Australian outback. So, 10 bonus points for excellent setting! The landscape is described beautifully, and the isolation of the station is a big factor in how much the family has fallen apart.
The book takes some turns that I did not expect, with the crazy Christmas letter being dealt with much sooner than I would have thought. I was surprised by how honest Angela and her children ended up being with one another, and I loved the relationships between the daughters, who come with their own sets of problems and idiosyncrasies.
It’s much tougher for Angela and Nick to figure out their issues — and after a freak accident leaves Angela with a strange case of amnesia in which she believes her fantasy life to be real, her family’s nurturing and support help her find her way back to herself and to the life she and Nick truly want.
The characters here are all quirky and memorable, and I enjoyed the glimpses of the various Gillespie kids, their messed-up lives, and their great personalities. (Son Ig is my favorite, hands-down — funny, rambunctious, and with an endearingly oddball sense of creativity and imagination.) Angela and Nick have a bedrock of true love at the heart of their marriage, so it was quite moving to see the pain they each suffered along the way toward healing the rift between them.
As I said earlier, the Australian setting absolutely enhances the overall story and made it that much more enjoyable. And who hasn’t gotten tired of the annual Christmas letters, where every child is brilliant, every spouse is a success, every house is sparkling and lovely? Hello shows the fall-out from a massive dose of truth-telling. It’s fun, light reading, but with a real sense of heart as well.
This would be a great choice for someone looking for a holiday read that’s a bit different, but that still leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy when you’ve finished.
Title: Hello From the Gillespies
Author: Monica McInerney
Publisher: Penguin Group/NAL Trade
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Length: 624 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy via NetGalley
Diana is sitting this month out, but check back next month when we’ll be back with full interactivity!
Next for Fields & Fantasies: