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The Authenticity Project

by Clare Pooley

GENRE: Contemporary Fiction

Described as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine meets Love, Actually, six strangers become unlikely friends through a notebook in which they each reveal their true inner selves in this uplifting, quirky novel. Heavy topics such as substance abuse, grief, and loneliness are handled with a light touch.

Discussion Guide

Author Biography

Clare Pooley graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge and spent twenty years in the heady world of advertising before becoming a full-time mum.

Realising that her ‘wine o’clock’ habit had spiralled out of control, Clare started writing a blog, Mummy was a Secret Drinker, which has had nearly three million hits. Her memoir, The Sober Diaries was published in 2017 to critical acclaim.  

Clare’s debut novel - The Authenticity Project, was inspired by her own experience of exposing the rather grubby truth about her own seemingly perfect life, and is being published in twenty-nine territories in 2020.

Clare’s second novel - The People on Platform 5 (titled Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting in the USA/Canada) was published in spring 2022.

Clare’s talks include a TEDx talk - ‘Making Sober Less Shameful’, a talk for Radio 4’s Four Thought, and numerous podcast interviews. 

Clare lives in Fulham, London with her husband, three children, two border terriers, and an African pygmy hedgehog.  - Author's website

More Titles By This Author

Reviews

Booklist

When Julian, an elderly, once-famous artist, leaves a journal in his local café, it changes the lives of a chain of people. The café’s owner, Monica, finds the mysterious book and reads about Julian’s struggle to make authentic connections. She adds her own pages about her wishes to find love and start a family, and then the journal finds its way to Hazard, a recovering addict and financial trader; Riley, an easygoing Australian traveler; and Alice, a young mother who feels unfulfilled. Monica’s café becomes a hub for this quirky bunch and others as it hosts art classes led by Julian and orchestrates celebrations and excursions, all of which give rise to unlikely friendships and even romance. Light moments are balanced by explorations of such weighty topics as substance abuse, grief, and depression. A compelling first novel about dealing with change by the British blogger who wrote The Sober Diaries (2017), an account of her own struggle with drinking after becoming a stay-at-home mother. -- Aleksandra Walker (Reviewed 1/1/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 9, p34).

Publisher's Weekly

This wistful, humorous tale from Pooley (The Sober Diaries) follows the path of a confessional notebook that passes through the hands of several characters. When 79-year-old Julian Jessop, a withdrawn British painter, leaves a notebook in Monica’s London Café, the owner takes it upstairs to her flat. A few nights later, Monica is oppressed by chronic loneliness as she comes home to her empty apartment; she reads the opening entry of Julian’s notebook, which laments the loss of his wife and envisions a model of honest public sharing, “not on the internet, but with those real people around you.” Monica then contributes her own intimate entry, a chronicle of dissatisfaction about being 37 without a husband or children, and leaves the notebook for another stranger. Timothy Ford finds it and brings it on a trip to Thailand that he hopes will help him get sober. After reading Monica’s entry, he decides to become her “secret matchmaker” by selecting an eligible bachelor among his fellow vacationers. He chooses Riley, a 30-year-old Australian planning to visit London, and leaves the notebook in Riley’s rucksack with a note to look for her. Pooley maintains a quick, satisfying pace as the characters’ simple, spontaneous acts affect each other’s lives. This is a beautiful and illuminating story of self-creation. (Feb.) --Staff (Reviewed 11/18/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 46, p). 

Kirkus Reviews

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook. Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts "The Authenticity Project "—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook's pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing? An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics. (Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2019).

Readalikes

The Librarianist
by Patrick deWitt

Bob Comet is a retired librarian passing his solitary days surrounded by books and small comforts in a mint-colored house in Portland, Oregon. One morning on his daily walk he encounters a confused elderly woman lost in a market and returns her to the senior center that is her home. Hoping to fill the void he’s known since retiring, he begins volunteering at the center. Here, as a community of strange peers gathers around Bob, and following a happenstance brush with a painful complication from his past, the events of his life and the details of his character are revealed.

Behind Bob Comet’s straight-man façade is the story of an unhappy child’s runaway adventure during the last days of the Second World War, of true love won and stolen away, of the purpose and pride found in the librarian’s vocation, and of the pleasures of a life lived to the side of the masses. Bob’s experiences are imbued with melancholy but also a bright, sustained comedy; he has a talent for locating bizarre and outsized players to welcome onto the stage of his life.

The Lost Manuscript
by Cathy Bonidan

When Anne-Lise Briard books a room at the Beau Rivage Hotel for her vacation on the Brittany coast, she has no idea this trip will start her on the path to unearthing a mystery. In search of something to read, she opens up her bedside table drawer in her hotel room, and inside she finds an abandoned manuscript. Halfway through the pages, an address is written. She sends pages to the address, in hopes of potentially hearing a response from the unknown author. But not before she reads the story and falls in love with it. The response, which she receives a few days later, astonishes her.

Not only does the author write back, but he confesses that he lost the manuscript 30 years prior on a flight to Montreal. And then he reveals something even more shocking—that he was not the author of the second half of the book.

Anne-Lise can’t rest until she discovers who this second mystery author is, and in doing so tracks down every person who has held this manuscript in their hands. Through the letters exchanged by the people whose lives the manuscript has touched, she discovers long-lost love stories and intimate secrets. Romances blossom and new friends are made. Everyone's lives are made better by this book—and isn't that the point of reading? And finally, with a plot twist you don't see coming, she uncovers the astonishing identity of the author who finished the story.

Meet Me at the Museum
by Anne Youngson

A disenchanted farmer's wife and a widowed museum curator begin a correspondence over their mutual fascination with poet Seamus Heaney's "The Tollund Man" and gradually share details from their lives, forging an unexpected bond along the way.