When I heard that Bookshop.org opens in the UK, I had to try it. I hate buying physical books on Amazon, because there is no such thing as browsing with them. It’s all fed by algorithm that is really bad with my tastes and basically just pushes bestsellers at me. No surprise to be had. Whereas in Bookshop.org I can browse bookshelves curated by authors and various local bookshops, getting the amazing randomness of human touch and the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from supporting a local business. And also serendipitous finds abound. Jillian is one of such finds.
First published in the US in 2015, and in the UK only this year, it was a book that I never heard of before. And something in the blurb caught my eye
Megan is only twenty-four but her life feels like a dead end. Working as a gastroenterologist’s receptionist and resenting the success and happiness of her friends, the only thing that makes her feel better is obsessively critiquing the behavior of her colleague, Jillian. A grotesquely optimistic thirty-five-year-old single mother, Jillian’s chirpy positivity obscures her mounting struggles – until her downfall is precipitated by the purchase of a dog…
Now, I’ll be very honest, I did not find this book funny, like some other reviewers. Amusing yes, but mostly sad. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, or I didn’t like it. It’s just not funny and I’m not sure it was meant to be funny.
The whole book is basically a chronicle of mental breakdown, actually two. Because as much as Megan hates Jillian they are both falling apart. Megan is just louder about it, up to a point.
Megan basically says about people all the things we sometimes think when in a mean mood, and then we feel guilty about our thoughts. She doesn’t. She throws tantrums, drinks and argues, only to proceed to self-pitying crying bouts. Jillian on the other hand is an overly chirpy single mother obsessed with inspirational quotes. It’s hard not ot resent her when we meet her, but gradually under that shiny, positive exterior we see depths of her desperation.
Neither of them is a nice person. And also against expectations the misery does not bring them together on some healing journey. When I finished the book I was lacking some sort of climax and resolution. It took me a few days to get that this lack is on purpose. Because who in real life gets a resolution? No one. We just roll on to our new poblems and future breakdowns.
So it was a pretty gloomy read, but on the other hand you want to stay with it for its honesty. Halle Butler is not sugar coating anything, she does not shy away from the psychological breakdown or the physical falling to pieces. A great random surprise, from my new favorite bookstore.
Here are some selected quotes from Jillian.