Nell Stevens was determined to write a novel. So when the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world to research and write a book arose, she jumped on it. But she didn’t choose a bustling city, a romantic village, or a beach-y getaway. Instead, she picked Bleaker Island, a snowy, windy, island in the Falklands. She would be the only occupant of a guesthouse where, finally distraction-free, she would write her book.
But her plan didn’t go quite as expected. Loneliness, lack of entertainment, and a meager supply of food turn out to be poor conditions for writing. Yet as Nell struggled to write a charming fiction, she found a different story.
Let’s get into it
As someone who frequently daydreams of travel and, you know, actually finishing projects, I relate to Stevens’ story hard. I can totally understand why she would think going somewhere with pretty much no human interaction and limited distractions would result in a book. I think that’s why I enjoyed Bleaker House so much.
Stevens writing is funny and full of self-deprecation. She openly admits to the mistakes she made in planning and preparing for her fellowship, and I appreciate that honesty. I sometimes find writing about writing can be pretentious or boring, but the way Stevens focuses on her own art and ambition keeps it entertaining. Bleaker House also deviates from the norms of the memoir by also including bits of fiction that show Stevens’ attempts to capture character and develop plot during her seclusion in the Falklands. These short stories and excerpts keep the story fresh and fun to read.
I don’t know much about the Falklands, so it was cool to learn a bit more. Stevens doesn’t hesitate to dismiss any romantic notions of Bleaker. She paints a cold and grey picture of the island, the harshness of the environment and weather taking a toll on her physically and mentally. Yet, there’s still something about it that intrigued me. Perhaps my wanderlust is easily lit, but it could also be that Stevens achieved something there, despite her failures. Or maybe it’s the penguins.
In any case, this was a kind of literary coming of age story that was perfect for reading on vacation. It’s got lots of musings on writing and art and it’s well paced.
Final thoughts: In Bleaker House, Nell Stevens’ gives us a self-deprecating tale of trying to live a writer’s life. With humour and a bit of experimentation, this novel shows us how to make the most of failure.