All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

on February 10, 2021

The World At My Feet 
Catherine Isaac
Simon & Schuster AUS
2021, 423p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

The secrets that bind us can also tear us apart…

1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule.

2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn’t set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears.

From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World at My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime.

Ellie is an instagram influencer who hasn’t left the confines of her garden in two years. She’s built a career out of her garden, sharing photos and knowledge. She’s grown her followers up to almost 60k and has been doing sponsored posts for a while now. It’s all she needs – the thought of stepping out the front gate sends her into a panic and although her life is very confined, she’s happy. Right?

Ellie suffers from agoraphobia, not particularly the open spaces that you might think of, but the idea of being away from the safety of her home. Her home is her sanctuary. She lives in an annexe previously occupied by her grandmother on the property of her parents and she tends a quite luxurious garden. Ellie hasn’t always been like this, although it’s something she has struggled with on and off for large portions of her life. But a few years ago she was managing to live and work in London until the most recent flare up of her phobia. She’s undertaken therapy at various points in her life but she turned her back on that when her therapist suggested a sort of immersion therapy: exposing herself to the things that terrify her in order to help her deal with them. Ellie doesn’t want that – she’s well aware of where the trauma started and that’s something she buries so far down she wants to never examine it.

I loved this. I’ve read a Catherine Isaac book before and really enjoyed it and so I had been looking forward to reading this. I really liked Ellie from the first page, her creating of a life for herself, that worked with her mental illness, even if it wasn’t the sort of life that others might want for her. Her parents are wonderfully supportive, although they do want Ellie to not be hurting or frightened of the thought of leaving the confines of the property and her sister Lucy is amazing too. Ellie knows that it’s difficult for her to maintain friendships – few people are understanding of her inability to meet for drinks, go out for dinner, even visit them in their homes. Most of her interaction is online, answering comments on her instagram posts and engaging with the community to continue to drive up her followers. Her income depends on the success of her sponsored posts and it’s also a way to interact with people and have conversations without having to leave her property. At the same time, delivery driver Jamie enters her life as does yoga instructor Guy. Ellie wants a relationship, but like with friendships, the amount of people who are understanding of her limitations are quite few and far between.

I had a bit of trouble figuring out some of the timeline, briefly in the book but then I realised why things didn’t add up. I have actually watched a documentary on Romania post-Communist fall, in particular around the orphanages and state care facilities and it is harrowing stuff. The deeper this book got into exploring the background of Ellie’s trauma, the more things made sense – where it had come from, how deep and ingrained it was and how it was something so buried for her own self-preservation. But in burying it, Ellie had also made difficulties for herself and I understand her reluctance to confront it head on. To not want that sort of closure from that time in her life because of how truly painful and damaging it was. Ellie got terribly lucky in a situation where many did not and I think there’s also a deep-seated guilt about that as well.

I really enjoyed the way this book explored methods of therapy, Ellie’s journey with her illness and also social media – the pressure for every post to be perfect, to not show the messiness behind the posts, the things that went in to creating the ‘look’. Ellie often takes hundreds of photos to just get that one shot to post and there’s a portion in the book where she also has a run in with a troll, which is always the danger whenever you put anything out there on social media. Ellie has a battle about authentic vs created and ends up making a decision about what she posts which I really liked. I felt it came at a time when she was making quite a lot of decisions about her future and how her life was going to work going forward.

I thought this was really wonderful and enjoyed every page of it.


Book #18 of 2021

2 responses to “Review: The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

  1. I was sent this one as well. Really looking forward to it after this review!

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