Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
Amy, the leading character in this book, is a compulsive hoarder. When a shocking episode shatters her life shared by a boyfriend she loved and a girlfriend she was deeply attached to, she begins to collect objects that reminded her of happier times. They offered a constancy that her friend and her lover failed to provide.
This pre-occupation soon becomes excessive and her home transforms into a house filled with junk – empty wine bottles, coffee mugs, newspapers and much more. Amongst this, there is a small statue of a robin she calls Scarlet and it becomes her loyal confidant.
Amy is rigid in her boundaries for behaviour, at work, commuting and even diet and shopping. Her world shrinks. She has no friends or social life. Her pleasure is found regarding and caring for her ‘treasures’, which most would dismiss as rubbish.
Chapters alternate between her current life and events eleven years ago with Chantel, her friend and Tim, her lover. Their visit to the Glastonbury Music Festival is vividly recreated, as are the pub gigs when she listens to Tim playing guitar and performing his songs with the band.
Neighbours on both sides are of growing importance. Rachel and her cat Smudge lead to Amy’s confronting her problem and realising it negatively impacts others. Nina, Richard and his two boys Charlie and Daniel, make attempts to foster a friendship. Gradually her feelings for them warm.
The mystery that haunts Amy is the question of what really happened to Tim and Chantel. Although eleven years have passed, she discovers small and tantalising clues. Their emergence adds to the puzzle. She contacts estranged family and a policeman connected to the case. At this stage, coincidence plays a key role in unraveling her conundrum and perhaps learning the truth.
Everything is beautiful of course to the hoarder and this explains why they can’t bear to part with their loved objects.
For Amy it becomes a health hazard and a concern for neighbours. The Council becomes involved and the efforts to gain access is another thread through the story. However, it is the little boy Charlie’s obsession with and knowledge of earth movers such as diggers, that lead to Amy and the police solving the disappearance of the pair. Not only is that fortuitous to an incredible degree, but his father, Richard realises that his attraction to his new partner Nina, is crumbling and he becomes an irresistible and sympathetic love interest for Amy. His sons are also enamoured.
The book concludes on a satisfying note for the major characters and Amy even finds a solution to her endless accumulation of ‘beautiful’ objects.
The author, Eleanor Ray, was inspired to write her book by watching her toddler loving to collect small things. She was spurred on too, perhaps, by the taste the reading public has displayed for characters who have unusual and often socially misunderstood traits, like Eleanor Oliphant who had OCD.
Such books offer reasonable explanation for seeming bizarre behaviour, hopefully leading to greater understanding and tolerance.
Despite its being so neatly plotted with a satisfying romantic conclusion, I did enjoy reading Everything is Beautiful. The easily recognised two dimensional minor characters, and Amy, people a narrative that is a pleasant escape from our often-fraught world. Current times are more doom and gloom than joyful celebration.
Amy and her determination to solve the mystery of her vanished friends brings a fresh and charming interlude to constant references to Covid and Vaccines.
Everything Is Beautiful
by Eleanor Ray
ISBN 978 03494 2742 3