Trigger Warning: Today’s book, No Grey Areas by Stuart Hopkins, depicts scenes of domestic abuse, including mental, emotional, and physical abuse. If you or someone you know have suffered through similar abuse or otherwise wish to avoid such topics, proceed with caution.
Happy weekend, everyone! Mine is off to an unusual and rather bumpy start, which led to me being unable to post a Friday Fun-Day Writing Prompt or any other content yesterday. I’ll try and post one later today or tomorrow, but for now I want to start the weekend with a book review. Today’s review is a special one, very different from anything I’ve done on this blog. Last week, I was given the opportunity to read and review excerpts from a book that will be published in December and I am presenting my thoughts on them in this post. The book which I have sampled is No Grey Areas, a memoir written by and about Stuart Hopkins.
Before I start my review, I want to provide a little information on the author. Stuart Hopkins is a professional pianist, businessman, trained pilot, and traveler. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Hopkins has been to Malta, Southeast Asia, and many other places around the world. He will even fulfill a dream of going to India in 2018. More than that, he’ll be journeying on the Maharajah Express, the most luxurious train in the world which can cost up to US$50,000 for a week-long journey.
We all know that the most extraordinary lives also tend to harbor the worst traumas. Hopkins’s life, unfortunately, is no exception. He has had more than his fair share of tragedies, from an abusive father and alcoholic mother to a half-brother who committed suicide before Hopkins had the chance to reach out and connect with the troubled soul. He has been poked, prodded, bullied, beaten, and taken advantage of. Most recently, Hopkins had a business partner in 2009 while in Thailand who tried to steal the company out from under him by having him arrested for fraud, a charge which took him three months in prison to clear himself of. (You can learn more about that fun time on his Quora blog. That blog is where Hopkins jots down the first draft of everything, so keep in mind that the book has been edited and polished more and don’t judge it based on how the blog is written.)
No Grey Areas covers these experiences and more. Starting with his formative years, Hopkins takes readers on a journey from his tumultuous upbringing and budding talent for the piano to his days playing professionally in hotels and on ships and—the icing on the cake—three separate, narrow escapes from death. Hopkins admits on his website that some of the events may seem “outlandish” but that “every word [he’s] written is absolutely true”.
To be honest, I never doubted these experiences for a second, no matter how extraordinary they seemed. Hopkins writes with such raw emotion and bitter humor, constructing a feeling of sincerity which the most hardened skeptic could not challenge, that he could probably sell ice to an Eskimo just by sending him a letter. They say that truth is stranger than fiction; nowhere does this statement ring more true than in No Grey Areas.
Hopkins’s passions and emotions seep into every word of these excerpts. You can feel his love for the piano—and when that love waned—and the adrenaline which rushes through him when he flies a plane. You’ll grow sympathy for him as a teacher prods his chest black-and-blue for a minor grammatical error and nurture an appreciation for the man he has become while reading about the decline of his childhood home life.
Even though I have not experienced much of what Hopkins has experienced first-hand, I easily found moments in his life which I could latch onto as a connection between us. I cared more about him due to these small connections and the humor he puts into the darkest situations, making his brutally-honest and relatively-unfiltered thoughts more palatable.
Of course, such emotional investment also means that, at times, I wanted to smack Hopkins upside the head, either because he did something stupid or because he said something that I found annoying or offensive.
I both shook my head and laughed when he had to make the decision between spending his evening with a drunk, middle-aged man from Malta or a pretty, kind Swedish girl his own age. I rolled my eyes when he slipped into an aside about how today’s youth isn’t prepared as well for life as his generation was (the only thing missing from that statement was something about millennials and avocado toast). I also took slight personal offense to something involving a larger-than-average girl, being overweight myself. With that last issue, I should point out that one of the reasons I took offense was because the incident was so hilarious even though I knew I shouldn’t laugh due to my own condition, which testifies to the captivating power of Hopkins’s writing.
Any urges to smack him aside, Hopkins’s memoir promises to be a very engaging, funny, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching read. I went through the excerpts fairly quickly, so I suspect that the memoir itself will read just as quickly and have minimal lagging in the narration. Hopkins clearly does not hold back, no matter how painful the memories might be.
While the title is No Grey Areas and the author claims to see things in black-and-white, there may be some debate as to whether the memoir truly speaks in black-and-white or if, in a touch of irony, grey areas abound in the novel. I personally lean towards the latter interpretation after reading these excerpts, and it’s this subversion of expectations which makes me excited to read more once the book is released in December. After all, can we really choose to avoid grey areas in life and morality? Or do they persist despite what we claim to believe?
To read these excerpts, follow this link to Hopkins’s website. They are available individually on the website as well as together in one document for multiple e-reader formats (look under the “Downloads” tab). You can also find out more about his future trip to India and about the author himself. Most importantly, make sure to sign up for his newsletter so that you can be among the first to get news regarding the memoir and its release.
An extra bonus to accessing his website is that you can pre-order No Grey Areas for US$4.49, half of what it will be after its e-book release; just scroll to the bottom of one of the excerpt web pages and click on the PayPal button below the text.
Do you know of any books I should read? Any books about to be released that you think we should spread the word about? Want your book reviewed on this blog? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Fiverr.