Book Review: Bleaker House – Living to Write

Book Review: Bleaker House – Living to Write

When Nell Stevens closed the door that first night, hours after landing on the appropriately named Bleaker Island, one can only imagine the tide of solitude that flooded her being. Cold, bare, unfamiliar and all too lonely, this Falkland island was perhaps the vital ingredient in the creation of Nell’s not-quite-novel-almost-memoir-mashup-masterpiece. She had travelled, after a Global Fellowship scheme run by Boston University, motivated by the frustration and fear of artistic failure, to this small island in the Atlantic Ocean. All in the name of an unwritten novel. Her idea: lock herself in a remote part of the world, with nothing to do, barely enough to eat and in complete solitude and force herself to write enough words to produce a novel. Simple.

In Bleaker House, the magiclies in the method. A collection of short stories, false starts, diary entries and a travelogue make up this debut and while cautious not to devalue its content (I am already perhaps too invested in Emily Blaine’s Hong Kong voyeurism) it is the bravery of the method that shines as its breakout star. Artists spend their lives battling a debilitating, self-deprecating fear of failure and searching for the perfect balance between life and Art. It is clear that in Bleaker House, Nell Stevens is committed to living her art and in the process produced a truly worthwhile piece of work.

Not content with the comfort of cafés or with the distraction of London nightlife, Nell abandoned the familiarity and relative safety of the English capital and made, if only temporarily, her novel the purpose of her existence. She was determined to extract the novel she knew was inside her, by any means necessary. Determined to overcome the fear of failure and determined to escape the noise and excuses of home, Nell began ‘chasing her novel to the end of the world’, putting herself under the artistic microscope and relentlessly scouring her talent in search of a novel. She made it impossible for her art and talent to hide, and in doing so, confronted the possibility that she just didn’t have it in her. Nell’s method of producing Bleaker House was brave and commendable, even if it didn’t produce the book she thought it might.

Everybody thinks they have a book in them. Everybody thinks they can be the next J.K Rowling. Not many are willing to pack up, leave their iPhone at home with their friends and family and become the only inhabitant of an island thousands of miles from home. In producing diverse prose, from excepts worthy of a travel guide to realist short stories musing on the ethics of manipulative research, Nell Stevens proved she did have a book in her, just not the one she had originally thought. Bleaker House: Chasing my novel to the end of the world is a significant contribution to contemporary literature and valuable insight into the complexity and reality of the modern-day author.

*First published on

©️ photo by @doubledaybooks

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