Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander

Blurb

Meredith Maggs hasn’t left her house in1,214 days. But she insists she isn’t alone. 

She has her cat, Fred. Her friend Sadie visits when she can. There’s her online support group, StrengthInNumbers. She has her jigsaws, favourite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the Tesco delivery man and her treacherous memories for company. 

But something’s about to change. 

First, new friends Tom and Celeste burst into her life. Then an estranged sister she hasn’t spoken to in years. 

Suddenly her carefully curated home is not longer a safe place to hide. 

Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door…

Book Stats

Format: ebook
Length: 400 pages (kindle edition)
Published: 2022
Publisher: Micheal Joseph
Source: NetGalley

Goodreads

Content warnings: agoraphobia, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, cancer, death, abuse, rape, panic attacks

Review

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinions.

Meredith, Alone tells the story of Meredith Maggs, a middle-aged woman living with agoraphobia, though Alexander never names it as that in the book.. Meredith hasn’t left her home for roughly 3 years, and throughout the story we learn why that is, what traumatised her into this level of anxiety, and also watch her try to reclaim her life, little by little. 

I picked this book up because of the mental health aspect of it. I have an interest in mental health, and I like to see how authors handle issues such as agoraphobia. And I think Claire Alexander handles it really well in this book. I haven’t heard or seen anywhere that this is based on direct experience, though in an interview with Radio 4 she did say that she has had struggles with her mental health. 

For the record, authors shouldn’t have to reveal anything about their personal lives they don’t want to. Alexander does a really good job of portraying anxiety and trauma in this book, and that’s good enough for me. 

Meredith, Alone does feel like a really well put together book. The characters feel like real people, and she includes just enough description to enable me to ‘see’ the settings without overwhelming the reader with too much description and information. I did feel though that the dialogue, whilst mostly written well, did feel clunky at points. Some of the things the characters said didn’t feel natural, but rather felt like Alexander had included them for the sake of info dumping (attempting to work information into dialogue rather than dumping it straight into the narrative).

There are two timelines in the story. There is the main timeline following Meredith at home after 3 years of isolation, as well as a timeline that jumps around in her past. This non-linear narrative explores the reasons behind Meredith’s current mental illness, slowly revealing her dysfunctional family and the impact they have had on her. I do like this dual timeline narrative (it seems quite popular in literary fiction at the moment). But I did find the ‘past’ narrative a little confusing at points, because it jumps around in time. I still followed the story, but I sometimes had to stop and wonder where in time the story was now. 

Alexander does deal with a lot of dark themes in Meredith, Alone. As I mentioned in the content warnings section, there are a lot of discussions around mental illness as well as trauma. But these topics are handled in quite a light tone. The book doesn’t go into too much detail, or show much detail around certain acts. Which leaves me feeling that this book is primarily about exploring hope around these topics, rather than showing the depths of how difficult they can be to cope with, and that some people struggle to recover or cope with them at all (in opposition to books like Young Mungo and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, also set in Glasgow). I think books like this are needed to balance out others that do deal with dark topics in a more gritty, perhaps even more realistic, way. 

My biggest critique of the book, if you can even call it a critique really, is that to me, someone with personal experienced around what Meredith is dealing with, the situation and chain of events felt a bit unrealistic. The descriptions of mental illness felt grounded in reality, and I felt that it was good representation in that sense. However, I felt that Meredith, Alone portrays an almost idealistic situation for someone with agoraphobia. 

Meredith works at home, as a freelance writer, which is handy as her illness means she can’t go to a physical workplace. How she transitioned into this line of work isn’t really explored in the book. But I did feel like Alexander had given Meredith this career so that she could work from home. In reality, most people with agoraphobia would either be living at home with their parents, supported by a spouse, or be on disability benefits.

Alexander never really discusses Meredith’s class, or socioeconomic situation. I got the feeling from the parts of the story set in the past that she perhaps comes from a working class background (her sister works in a supermarket and her mother seems to struggle to hold down a job). Yet there was never any sense of poverty, just a difficult family situation. Which isn’t necessarily a critique. I am just a little wary of books that code abusive families as poor, as working class, by default. This is in opposition to the fact that Alexander does clearly code Meredith as middle class. Which, again, is fine. I’m just always alert to stereotyping and how authors portray class in novels.

Overall, I felt that Meredith, Alone was an enjoyable read. It deals with some quite dark topics with a light tone, giving a sense of hope. I know there’s a lot of hype around this book, which is a debut novel for Alexander. For me, I don’t think it’s worth so much hype. It’s a nice story that kept my attention and kept me reading. It was a quick read, as well. I’ll be interested to see where Alexander goes with her next book. 

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