Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan

Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life - 
startling, unexpected, unknown?
-Virginia Woolf

I think Emily, Alone is one amazing book.

I wonder how a middle-aged man can know, and perfectly convey, the mind of an 80-year-old widow. Perhaps O'Nan spent years really listening to a mother, grandmother, or great aunt.

I'm glad I read Wish You Were Here first. Set seven years earlier, it provided the background necessary for a deeper understanding of Emily, her family, and their history.

I'm feeling slightly sad...although the book ends on a hopeful note, it's not exactly a cheerful novel. Of course, two daughters leaving for college, a cold, rainy Labor Day, and the unofficial end of summer may have contributed to my blue mood. Still, this quiet, introspective novel will not be for everyone.

I loved these quotes:
"The temptation was to mourn those days, when they were young and busy and alive. As much as Emily missed them, she understood the reason that era seemed so rich - partly, at least - was because it was past, memorialized, the task they'd set themselves of raising families accomplished" p.55
"Often, as she leafed through the sticky, plastic-coated pages, spotting herself with a frizzy perm or wearing a loud, printed blouse, she was struck by how long life was, and how much time had passed, and she wished she could go back and apologize to those closest to her, explain that she understood now. Impossible, and yet the urge to return and be a different person never lessened, grew only more acute." p. 65
"She fretted especially about Sarah and Justin, how they would turn out, and thought it unfair that she would probably not be around to witness it. She'd watched her own children grow up, maybe that was enough - as if one were allowed to see only so much of life, the future, like the past, necessarily hidden and mysterious." p.90
"Though they all lived alone, and preferred to, they were all worried about one another, equally. Why had it taken them so long to arrive at this point? Shouldn't it have always been that way?" p. 126
I will read more O'Nan.

I rate Emily, Alone:

Emily, Alone
by Stewart O'Nan
Viking, 2011
255 pages
source: borrowed from the library


  1. Sounds like a good read. Glad you enjoyed it so much. My only experience with O'Nan was the book (can't remember the title) where the son disappeared and the family searched and searched for him. It almost took over the mother's life to the point where the young daughter got lost in the shuffle. That one seemed to be written coldly, almost like it was being reported on the news. I wasn't impressed but your review makes me think I should give him another shot.

  2. Kaye - I hope you give O'Nan another try. I think he's a wonderful writer...will probably end up at the library today to see if they have any of his other novels. Hoping to find Last Night at the Lobster.

  3. I read Emily, Alone and loved every single word in it. Sad but beautiful.

  4. "Emily, Alone" gets five stars from me as well. I'm reading "Wish You Were Here" now. Kind of strange reading these books out of order but it works.

  5. I loved this one as well JoAnn. O'Nan is a special author, IMO.

  6. I really liked how you highlighted your emotions!! This one sounds wonderful and I will make sure that I read the other one first and then this one. Fantastic review!!!!!

  7. Traveler - Sad but beautiful is exactly right! Have you read anything else by O'Nan?

    Nan - My 'discovery' of Stewart O'Nan is a result of your wonderful review. Thank you so much!

    Lee - There must be so many moments of insight as you read the books in reverse order...different, but just as wonderful, I'm sure.

    Diane - I agree! Borrowed Last Night at the Lobster from the library today. First Yates, now O'Nan...

    Staci - Thanks! As the book ended, I had a flood of emotions, so I just went with it :-)

  8. I have never read O'Nan but your review has my interest piqued. Would you recommend starting with this book or one of his others?

  9. Booksnyc - I love O'Nan, but would recommend reading Wish You Were Here before Emily, Alone.... you'll appreciated it much more! Although I haven't quite finished, Last Night at the Lobster is also wonderful. It has the advantage of being just 150 pages long, so may be the perfect intro to O'Nan's writing.

  10. Followed from a mention from Marie of Boston Bibliophile. Interesting blog. thanks

  11. Nana Fredua-Agyeman - Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment. It's good to 'meet' you!

  12. I finished this book the other day -- my first O'Nan -- and reviewed it today. I'm in love. And yes you're right about everything.

    I will be reading Wish You Were Here in a week or so.

  13. Beth F -I'm glad! Isn't O'Nan wonderful? I Can't believe it's taken me so long to read him. You'll have many 'ah-ha moments' reading Wish You Were Here... lots of background for events leading up to Emily, Alone. I loved Last Night at the Lobster, too.


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