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Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  1,401 ratings  ·  286 reviews
On a frozen island in the Falklands, with only penguins for company, a young would-be writer struggles to craft a debut novel...and instead writes a funny, clever, moving memoir that heralds the arrival of a fresh new literary talent.

Twenty-seven-year-old Nell Stevens was determined to write a novel, but somehow life kept getting in the way. Then came an irresistible oppor
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Knopf Canada
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  1,401 ratings  ·  286 reviews

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Diane S ☔
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: lor
Offered an amazing opportunity to travel anywhere, spend time writing, Neil chooses the Falklands. This setting the attraction for me in wanting to read this book. A place I have not read much about, a place of solitude, few people and a somewhat intimidating landscape. Seemed to have read several books on this theme lately, wonder if my subconscious is trying to tell me something. Not surprisingly the parts where here time on the island was discussed, the penguins the birds, the snow and cold, ...more
Julie Ehlers
My reaction to Bleaker House is somewhat bewildering even to myself. On the one hand, it raised a lot of questions and provoked a lot of thoughts in me, and I have to respect that. On the other hand, I tend to like books that have some kind of emotional impact, and the emotional impact of this one was close to zero. Even having pondered it for a while, I'm torn on what this book's ultimate value might be.

As Nell Stevens is finishing her MFA at Boston University, she becomes the recipient of a ge
Like the Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation or Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, this is about trying but failing to write the project one has set for oneself – but documenting the journey anyway. Nell Stevens, an aspiring author from England, completed an MFA in creative writing at Boston University and then used her Global Fellowship in Fiction to travel to a location of her choice for three months to write her debut novel. She wanted to go somewhere obscure that had never really been the subject o ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley, memoir, writing
First up, I feel like I owe this book an apology: I have been really super distractible with anxiety since the election, and I can basically only stand to read escapist type stuff. But I received a galley of this from NetGalley, and the review has a due date, etc.

I think I expected a little more humor, maybe some goofy penguins, and a little more madcap adventure from this. Instead, it's fairly serious in tone, VERY introspective and navel-gazey, and not a little hand-wringy.

In other words: the
Book Riot Community
I’ve had a lot of other reading to do this month, but this book was one of those where you pick it up just to check it out…and suddenly you’re a hundred pages in. It’s a memoir about Nell Stevens and her brilliant and insane plan to go live in Bleaker Island, in the Falklands (population: Penguins.) (and maybe some people) where she will focus entirely on writing her novel. Except that it isn’t quite that easy, because books don’t write themselves, even in isolation, and the island is such an ad ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Pretty much the moment I laid eyes on the cover of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. And then when I learned the premise -- a memoir of a novelist who spent three months on an isolated island in the Falklands wrestling with her novel -- I knew I seriously had to read it.

Upon finishing her MFA, Nell Stevens learns that there's funding to support her traveling anywhere in the world so she may work on her writing for three months. Craving time alone, Stevens settles on Bleaker Island, part of
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
It's a fun premise for a story: Nell Stevens is a wonderful writer but nothing happens in her stories, so she decides to travel to what is almost literally the ends of the earth to write. Ironically, while she is there, alone on one of the Falkland Islands, nothing happens to her, and her novel goes nowhere, and she decides to write an account of her time in the Falkland Islands, where nothing happened. What is the result? This book, beautifully written (because she is a wonderful writer) but it ...more
Megan Tristao
I really wanted to like this book. A memoir about an aspiring novelist, a unique setting, the cute penguin on the cover, and come on - the book was called Bleaker House! So good. But it just didn't work for me. The small sections of fiction interspersed throughout made it seem like this "memoir" was an excuse to publish some unpublished (and/or unfinished) writing. I put the book down about halfway through. ...more
Leo Robertson
Feb 10, 2018 rated it liked it
All over the place—anguish on the island trying to write the novel, fragments of the unfinished novel itself, details of the author's life sometimes interesting other times not—but funny, insightful and enjoyable enough when it is these things to be worth the journey :) ...more
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
You've heard, I'm sure, of the distinction between "street smarts" and "book smarts", which presupposes that someone who reads a lot or is good at math or whatever has absolutely zero common sense. Aside from the fact that it all depends on what books you're reading – and sidestepping a lengthy side discussion about why a certain brand of heartland Republicans seem to think education is bad … this book kind of exemplifies this. Nell Stevens is obviously very book smart – but the fact that she ac ...more
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-books
Meh. I kept waiting for something to happen. Nothing to see here but navel gazing.
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Bleaker House is Nell Stevens' memoir of a failed attempt to isolate herself on a tiny island in the Falkland Islands to write a novel. It's a sort of mix of fiction and memoir, while Stevens talks about her motivations and experiences, she inserts small bits of fiction, including the book she tried to write during her time on the island.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I found that I liked the way the narrative jumped between fiction and memoir, even though I felt, at times, a little lost.
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-bookclub
I love the concept of this book, hated it half way through and came to the end thinking it did what it wanted for the author if not the reader.

Nell Stevens has the opportunity of a lifetime, go anywhere in the world to write your novel, she chooses the Falkland Islands. Foreign, remote, cold and a solitary challenge that will surely yield a novel. In the Information Age I was appalled that the author didn't make an informed decision, things like taking enough food, made me think her a fool.

I cam
Apr 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing, memoir
In general, I think memoirs are best told by writers who have a few decades under their belts. It takes a degree of intellectual rigor and self-depecration to pull off the introspection of a memoir without being dull at best, annoyingly narcissistic at worst.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised by Nell Stevens’s Bleaker House, a memoir about the writer’s time isolated on the frozen Bleaker Island, with only the angry penguins for company. How she came to be there would be the envy of any you
Stephanie May
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I gave this 3 stars after my initial read and, at the time, I remember thinking it was just OK. But as time passed, I found myself thinking more and more about this book and reflecting on the story. It would just be on my mind sometimes, for no discernible reason. Like I would just be going about my day and realize I had been thinking about Bleaker House for like a half hour? It's a book that grew on me more AFTER reading it, so I'm changing my rating to 5 stars. It's a memorable book, one that ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
You can probably tell from the rating that reading Bleaker House was as horrible a mistake as Nell Stevens’ trip to the Falklands. I’d seen a couple GR friends rate this highly, and it has a penguin on the cover, and I love Bleak House (FYI it has nothing whatsoever to do with Bleak House other than the island’s name and that she brought a copy of the book instead of more food), so I went for it. Big mistake. Huge. Bleaker House pissed me right the fuck off. I recommend Bleaker House to readers ...more
Rita Costa (Lusitania Geek)
This is a funny novel about a girl who decided "to invest" her career to become a writer, so as an extreme measurement, she thought by staying an isolated place, away from chaos, which bring some peace and concentration to begin her first she choose Bleaker Island in the Falkland (South of Atlantic Ocean). It's a remote island where the number of population is: 2 (including her), during the winter season, along penguins and sheep. It brings some hilarious parts (for example when she ...more
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This memoir of a writer's attempt to force a novel in splendid isolation on Bleaker Island is fantastic. Much like in H is for Hawk, it is not really the subject but the acute and incisive intelligence of the writer which makes the book shine. Many memoirs have a cutesy or self-indulgent tone which just grates on my nerves. This one does not- it's just intelligent and honest and a great writing memoir. ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
Meh. I wasn't impressed with the author's quest for literary greatness. I wish she had written more about the Falkland Islands and less about how her tortured soul yielded no novels. ...more
Oct 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Sometimes a book can be a companion. I read this while I was on a writing residency working on a novel, so of course reading about another writer on a (much more remote and difficult) residency working on a novel really connected with me. It's a light, easy, funny read – at times this was frustrating, as there were opportunities to go deeper or smarter, which weren't taken. But it is what it is, and I enjoyed it. It was exactly the book I needed to keep me company. ...more
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
Well, this was fabulous. Witty, compulsively readable, and a laugh or three on almost every page. Proper review to come nearer to publication date.
Julian Spergel
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Very interesting premise and very good writing, but the short stories interspersed throughout and the ending felt like filler and a forced resolution to a writing assignment. I guess I was expecting more about the Falkland Islands and less short story snippets.
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was incredibly inspiring and I am surprised at how many words I managed to write whilst reading this book. Not only the nudge I needed to get going, but an amazing insight into the harsh and brutal weather and life of the Antarctic.
Nell Stevens a young, English writer who has wanted to write a novel, is about to have her wish answered when she gets accepted to a one year Intensive Fiction MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at Boston University, where the program ends in what is called a “global fellowship” where students can apply for the chance to be sent out into the world, wherever they choose to spend three months, living, exploring and writing, all expenses paid, up to a certain amount.
Nell decides on the Falkland Islands and
M. Sarki
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned

What a great title and promising concept. So much to get excited about in advance of even reading the first page. But then delving in, and feeling immersed, proves disappointing and not to be in the cards. Truth is, just because the author is a professor of writing does not guarantee a good read. Or the fact the lettered writer won a prize. These teachers of fiction have contributed mightily to littering our world with useless books and done their part to
Jun 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a terrible book. I rolled my eyes so many times I'm surprised they aren't stuck. I think I hated this one more than Eat Pray Love and that's saying a lot. She can't be a writer until she does something interesting? *rolleyes* She gets a grant to go anywhere to write but she chooses the Falkland Islands (and has no interest in the islands, the people, the wildlife, anything) because she needs to be alone? *rolleyes* And then she whines about being alone. And guess what she didn't write as mu ...more
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book, but I just don't think that people in their 20s (myself very much included) have the right mix of material and retrospection to write a memoir. I felt that way when I picked up the book, so perhaps I prejudiced myself against it. The structure, mixing fiction and memoir, also didn't work for me. Oh well! ...more
More reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

The happy, pale turquoise and penguin clutching a page on the cover caught my eye while perusing books at a well-known local bookstore a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I'd already bought a few other books at said store (at full cover price--ouch) and didn't have it in the budget for this one. Luckily, the library came through for me, because I'd skimmed the first few pages and was intrigued by the premise of this memoir: young woman finis
4.25 stars

I could not put this book down. I read this entire book in one day (okay minus the first 30 pages the night before) on the same couch because I could not escape the story.

There was something about the premise, the writing, the structure, and the location that drew me in and kept me enthralled for the 12 hours I read this (I did have to stop and feed myself and go for a walk to stretch my legs at some points).

The premise: A young 27yo writer (so we already have age in common) wantin
Feb 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this. It was interesting, laugh aloud funny and had just the right amount of existential reflection on self and on being a writer without veering into self-indulgence. I liked the sections on writing and the short stories interspersed were a great addition. The remote setting also felt very appropriate to read while in lockdown.

“It should be full of people and it makes me panicky to be in there by myself, like a host waiting for guests who will never arrive”

“His eyes...make me
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Nell Stevens has a degree in English and creative writing from the University of Warwick, and studied Arabic and comparative literature at Harvard. She received an MFA in Fiction from Boston University and is currently pursuing a PhD in Victorian literature at King’s College London.

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