It’s a real delight today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of My Pear-Shaped Life by Carmel Harrington: originally published for kindle and as an audiobook by HarperCollins on 1st March, the hardback was released on 16th April, with the paperback due to follow in January 2021. My thanks to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my reading e-copy (provided via NetGalley).
It’s far, far too long since I read one of Carmel’s wonderful books – goodness, the last time was way back in 2015 when I read and unreservedly loved Every Time A Bell Rings (you’ll find my review here – go on, add it to your Christmas reading list now!). I did watch her interview on MyVLF a couple of months ago though (do call in and watch it – and if it’s a site you haven’t visited before, I’d recommend it most highly) when she talked about this book, and I inked it into my diary as a “must read”. Oh Carmel, I’m SO glad to have rediscovered your wonderful writing…
She’s hiding so much behind her big smile she’s forgotten who she is. But Greta is about to discover that the key to being happy is…being you.
Greta Gale has played the part of the funny fat one her entire life, hiding her insecurities behind a big smile. But size doesn’t matter when you can laugh at yourself, right?
Until Greta realises she’s the only one not laughing. And deep down, she’s not sure if she’ll ever laugh again.
But with her world feeling like it’s falling down around her, Greta is about to discover she’s stronger than she feels. And that sometimes the best moments in life come when it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped…
I’ve been a large and outwardly jolly girl for most of my life, and knew as soon as I saw this book’s synopsis that it was one I’d love. While Greta is Big G the “funny fat one” on the surface, the exceptional insight into her issues – a dependence on prescription drugs in addition to her size – really made me want to cry. I got distinctly teary about moments I recognised – yes, I’ve had to ask for a seatbelt extension on the plane too, and I’ll never forget that overwhelming feeling of shame and embarrassment. And by the time she gives in and sobs at the sight of the pear in the fruit bowl “lying toppled on its side, wobbling on a round body” because she doesn’t want to be a pear any more, I’ll admit I was pretty inconsolable.
Now I know that might make it all sound a touch dark and depressing – particularly if I tell you that the first part of the book tracks Greta’s downward spiral and follows her through a spell in a mental hospital for rehabilitation. But this is a book by Carmel Harrington, and I’d quite forgotten the perfect touch she has with such matters. This book is seriously funny, with a quite perfect balance between those darker times and a fair few others of sheer joy unbounded.
Many of those joyful moments are found through her wonderfully drawn family. Let’s face it, we should all have an Uncle Ray – other than Greta herself who won my heart, he was my favourite character in the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story of his personal search for happiness. Greta’s less than easy relationship with her father was quite beautifully handled, the ever-strong love sometimes clouded by the apparent impatience and criticism: and I totally fell for her mother, their wonderful exchanges, choosing the right clothes for the family visit to the mental hospital (and the hat) as well as dressing up for FaceTime calls when Greta is rather further way.
I’ve noticed that some people have been less enthusiastic about the road trip that takes up the second half of the book, but must say that I loved every single moment. They’re on their way to see Greta’s namesake and idol, Dr Greta Gale, an inspirational social media and TV personality whose posts have been such a source of support through the darker days. Our Greta is still struggling with her demons, and every member of the group that assembles has their own challenges to face and mountains to climb, supporting each other while discovering their own true selves.
The way the Oz story is used – each individual has a character they can entirely be identified with, and the references to the story abound – is so very cleverly done, and I totally adored it. I also loved so many of the encounters and exchanges along the way… but I’m in severe danger of telling you about every one that moved or entertained me, so I’ll let you read it yourself.
This book broke my heart and made me cry buckets, but it also made me laugh and cheer, and left me immeasurably happier: this is one for anyone who sometimes feels they might not be quite enough, because it will leave you reassured that every one of us most certainly is. Greta, I so loved you and hope you have the best life – and Carmel Harrington, I most certainly love you too, this book was just wonderful.
About the author
Carmel Harrington is an internationally published novelist from Co. Wexford, where she lives with her family. She has published seven novels and been shortlisted twice (2016 & 2017) for an Irish Book Award. Her books have captured the hearts of readers worldwide and are published in eight languages to date. She is co-founder of The Inspiration Project and was Chair of Wexford Literary Festival from 2015 – 2018.