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Book Review: Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

Book Review: Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

Over the last couple of years, we’ve all experienced being stuck within the confines of our own homes. We know what it’s like to not be able to travel or socialise, to go out to work or do all the things that usually fill and enrich our lives. And beyond that, how difficult it’s been for some people to re-enter society after such a long time of seclusion. This strange sense of reclusiveness wasn’t a choice but a necessity, yet in many ways it reflects the life of Meredith Maggs – the protagonist of Claire Alexander’s poignant and hopeful debut Meredith, Alone.

Meredith hasn’t left her house for 1,214 days. She insists she isn’t alone. She has her beloved cat Fred, a constant companion who never lets her down, and her best friend Sadie, who has stuck by Meredith through everything. She has the reliable Tesco delivery man and her online support group of other people struggling with their own problems and fears. And now she somewhat reluctantly has Tom, a kindly man from a befriending charity who’s determined to help Meredith rediscover her bravery and reconnect with the world.

Meredith, Alone might have been written almost entirely pre-pandemic but the fact that we’ve all suffered isolation and stagnation over the last two years makes Meredith’s story even more pertinent and understandable. Venturing back to the nineties and noughties, the novel explores Meredith’s past, present and potential future. The central question throughout much of the book is, what made Meredith – a woman who led an active life within society and had never previously had reclusive tendencies – suddenly unable to leave the house one day? As the story progresses, a traumatic catalyst moment does materialise but it also becomes clear that Meredith’s breakdown had been building up since childhood.

The beautiful thing about Claire Alexander’s novel is that it doesn’t concentrate on the awful event that caused Meredith to withdraw into herself. Instead it focuses on her will to survive and her determination to become the person she wants to be – someone who’s there for her friends when they need her, someone who can leave the house without having a panic attack, someone who can let love back into a heart that’s been shattered, and, most importantly, someone who lives rather than simply exists. This is a story about finding courage and overcoming life’s challenges. It’s not sugar coated but it’s not depressing either, with Alexander finding just the right balance to make this a thought provoking, relatable and uplifting book.

With a wonderfully ordinary cast of characters, all of them just trying to do the best they can with the hands they’ve been dealt, Meredith, Alone celebrates friendship, connection, forgiveness and the healing power of love. Ultimately this is a very human novel with a huge amount of heart.

★★★★★

Meredith, Alone is published by Michael Joseph on 9 June 2022

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