June 14, 2019
The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
Genre/Categories: Women’s Contemporary Fiction, Family Life, Friendship
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Susan Green has a perfectly controlled life until she doesn’t. Her life is carefully structured for one person: her flat is orderly and just the right size for one, her job is ideal for her analytical abilities, her cactus plants are dutifully tended, and her “relationship” is carefully defined and scheduled. Suddenly, life presents a couple of unexpected turn of events. Susan’s mother dies suddenly at the same time she finds out that she’s pregnant. Facing the added complication of an already strained relationship with her brother, Susan needs to take immediate action to bring order to her world once again. Can she adapt to these unexpected circumstances and could they bring her unexpected joy?
Like Eleanor? A popular blurb for The Cactus states that if you loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will love this story. My first impression was that Susan is more unlikeable and difficult than quirky. For me, quirky is a word that has an endearing component. Although, like Eleanor, Susan’s life is regimented and compartmentalized, she is prickly and unlikeable. I loved Eleanor from the first pages, so I wondered how this comparison would play out as I continued to read.
Susan. It took me about 60% into the read before I became endeared to Susan. She grew up feeling unloved and unnoticed by her mother, was jealous of her brother, and experienced a great deal of stress in her childhood because of her father’s alcoholic behaviors. Susan doesn’t have any close friends and she’s not close to her extended family. At the beginning of the story, Susan’s a loner and runs her lonely life efficiently and satisfactorily. When her mother dies, Susan’s world is turned upside down in multiple ways causing her to need some friend support and to practice flexibility.
Themes. Thoughtful themes include friendship, mother/daughter relationships, family secrets, siblings, motherhood, flexibility, and finding love.
The Comparison. I love that behind quirky characters, there’s a story. Is the person quirky because of a personality trait or because they might be on the spectrum or is their quirkiness the result of coping strategies? Reading stories of quirky characters can help build compassion and understanding for others. Can Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine be compared with The Cactus? In some obvious ways, yes. Eleanor and Susan both come across as quirky to their coworkers; however, Susan is better treated and more respected. Both have issues with their mothers. Both end up finding a supportive friend. For me, the crucial difference lies in the cause of their quirkiness or acquired coping strategies. I need to be careful not to include spoilers, so I’ll say that Eleanor suffered serious trauma in her childhood; whereas, Susan suffered unhappiness in her childhood. So…..there is some correlation between the two stories. For me, brave Eleanor still holds the gold standard for quirky and endearing. Have you read either story? My brief review for Eleanor is included in this post.
Recommended. I definitely recommend The Cactus for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (with the caution that it’s a loose comparison), for readers who might want to read a book that Reese Witherspoon chose as the June read (!) @reecesbookclubxhellosunshine (Instagram), for fans of brave, quirky characters striving to live their best lives, and definitely for book clubs.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Sarah Haywood
Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.
After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.
Sarah completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.
Sarah is currently working on her second novel.
Do you love quirky characters?
Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?
Who is your favorite quirky literary character?
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