Reviewed by Emma Crowley
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 yourself.
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 Greta is about to discover that sometimes the best moments in life come when it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped…
Many thanks to Harper Collins for my copy of A Pear Shaped Life via NetGalley to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Every mention I have seen so far on social media, or any review I have read of Carmel Harrington's new book My Pear Shaped Life, heaps praise upon it and deservedly so. This new character that Carmel has created, Greta Gale, is one who will live on in your heart and mind long after you have read the final page. Without question this is the best book that the author has written and I think everyone that reads it will identify with it hugely as I believe we can all identify with Greta in some way be it big or small. Right from the opening line My Pear Shaped Life is a book that gets under your skin and forces you to think about your own life situation and any problems that you may be facing.
Greta quickly becomes a character that has you rooting for a positive outcome for her. In the Dear Reader section at the beginning of the book Carmel spoke volumes about what was to come with Greta's story. The words said so much as she conveyed her raw and honest thoughts which gave the reader plenty to ponder before you had even begun to read Greta's story. She mentioned how The Wizard of Oz was a huge inspiration for her and to keep an eye out as to how the themes and certain characters wove their way into My Pear Shaped Life. I kept this in mind as I was reading and I thought it was wonderful how elements of such a famous book worked their way into what became an incredible story.
This book was so expertly written and crafted and numerous times I found myself nodding along with what Greta was saying and thinking yes there are plenty of times where I feel that way myself. So I was keen to see how Greta would deal with what life was about to throw at her. Would she be able to overcome the serious problems she has until this point buried deep down and tried to ignore? Or will things just prove too much for her that she goes down a route that will be very challenging to claw her way back to the top from.
Greta is an inspirational character, although she doesn't see herself in that manner at all. In her mind all the good qualities the reader can see she possesses simply do not exist for her and the emotional and physical turmoil that she is experiencing continue to increase and weigh her down day by day. She travels to some very dark places but you hope that with a little bit of guidance and support and some tough love that she can find the light in her life again and be the true Greta she has always been destined to be.
The story is split into three parts and I have seen some other people mention that it was like there were two stories within the one book and I tend to agree with this opinion. Some felt this left the overall book feeling a bit disjointed, and I can see where they are coming from, but to me part three was like the new Greta emerging and finding her place in the world. It was as if parts one and two were the darkness, trauma, anger and trouble and then in part three it was as if the good times started to roll, although not without a lot of soul searching occurring, in order to seek the ultimate final resolution which would hopefully see Greta through the rest of her life. Parts one and two were very emotional and at times a difficult read but part three is like reading of Greta coming out the other side as she embarks on the trip of a lifetime accompanied by her Uncle Ray in a bid to reach Las Vegas and find her name sake, Greta Gale, a self help guru in which Greta puts so much trust in even though she has never met her.
Greta is an aspiring actress who struggles with her weight, body image and her own self worth. Life is not easy for her and she believes thin is in and fat is not all that. There is a voice in her head that continuously compels her to feel that she is not enough. She follows Dr. Greta Gale, a life coach, for inspiration. She is a woman who epitomises everything that our Greta wishes she could be. Every day is a battle for her and things are going from bad to worse as a reliance upon sleeping tablets will prove to be the pivotal turning point in her life. It's make or break time and Greta is the only person who can do something about turning her life around. Her emotional well being and health are suffering and it doesn't help that she is under constant pressure from her family to get out there and get fit and lose the weight that is dragging her down. The regular judgements, shame, humiliation lead to fear, anxiety, stress, over eating and over reliance on a substance that will led to a stark wake up call for Greta and boy does she need it.
But to say she needs a sharp shock and wake up call, well we could say that about all of us because let's face it there is a piece of Greta in all of us. Not to say we reach the lengths of addiction that she does but the issues surrounding body image, eating and weight we can all relate to because who is truly happy with our bodies. Are we not all faced with images of picture perfect celebrities and influencers who in turn make us question ourselves? Are we not all under pressure to eat the right thing and get out and exercise as much as possible? All these issues we face on a daily basis in our own personal lives, well Greta exemplifies them and the way she is forced to go about confronting and dealing with them is an important and vital lesson for us all. She truly is an inspiration who will broaden many people's perspectives and make you stop, think and take stock of where you are right now in your life and maybe when this lock down finally finishes you will have the tools to go out and be a bit more Greta Gale, as in the Greta that emerges in the later half of the book as opposed to the first.
I found myself absolutely glued to the pages as we journeyed with Greta in the first half of the book. The writing became ever more expressive, emotional and remarkable and it was clear Carmel had poured her absolute everything into writing this story and I am so glad she did because it is such an important read and for many people it will be life changing. Everyone can take something from Greta's story and apply it to their own lives to make small changes for the better and I know myself I will do this. We are too hard on ourselves but Greta's situation showed that she had reached the very bottom and things need to be altered. A life changing situation is the spark she needed and I desperately hoped that she could claw her way back to some sense of normality in order to move forward with her life and find the happiness and contentment she so richly deserved.
Greta's family members didn't really do much for me as I felt they never backed her up or understood where she was coming from. Instead of seeing the battle she was going through their comments and lack of understanding did nothing at all for her instead they only aggravated the situation and made her feel a million times worse. All except for her Uncle Ray, and boy does everyone need an Uncle Ray in their lives. In the latter half he is the glue that holds Greta together and helps her continue her journey as he surprises her with the trip of a lifetime to attend Dr. Greta Gale's show in Las Vegas. Here the book took on a distinctly different tone and this is why I think a lot of people felt the story was like two books. The first half I would say was very intense and at times difficult to read about what Greta was going through but it needed to be in order for us to see her challenges but also the potential she had.
It seems wrong to say this but I preferred the first half, not that the second wasn't very well written, but at times it just lost its way ever so slightly before getting back on track. The attention shifted to the road trip that Ray and Greta set off on and I remember when Carmel was writing this book seeing pictures of the road trip she undertook with her husband just like Greta does and it was brilliant to see some of these places feature and how they tied in with the story. Greta along with Ray both want to find themselves and live their best lives and I loved how Ray stepped into the spotlight and his storyline was touching and endearing. It showed how we all have things to deal with and although we may present a front where everything is all good, deep down we are trying to accept and resolve what has been eating away at us for a long time. There were plenty of laughs along the way as the pair come across some unusual sights throughout the American landscape but then a more tender storyline emerged and one in which you hoped long sought happiness could be found.
My Pear Shaped Life was an amazing read and one which would be perfect for a book club. It provides the reader with such a broad, balanced perspective on so many issues and at the same time gives us a strong clear message to take with us through our own lives. It's funny, uplifting, expressive, heart-rending and a gripping read. Carmel Harrington takes you on an incredible journey and the more you read the more you are willing to follow whatever path she is taking you on. Definitely it's one to read as soon as possible.