Wednesday, 17 May 2017
#EleanorOliphantIsCompletelyFine #GailHoneyman #Review
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is fine. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except sometimes, everything.
No-one’s ever told Eleanor life should be better than fine. But with a simple act of kindness she’s about to realise exactly how much better than fine life can be.
Aahh. I'll just have another little moment to smile to myself and, well, ahhhhh a bit more.
Eleanor Oliphant, what a great story. Eleanor Oliphant - she's more than completely fine, she's completely bloody awesome.
This is a beautiful book.
It surprised me, amused me and touched me. It is unique, quirky, bold and clever. I am so impressed with the concept, the storyline, but most importantly the character. Honeyman is a gifted writer.
Eleanor is unusual. She doesn't quite fit in. She doesn't quite understand the world around her. She has a routine - one that never changes. She sees things for what they are. She's troubled. She has a past. There are explanations and revelations as the novel unfolds and we learn why Eleanor has become the way she is or why she behaves or reacts the way she does, but these answers come slowly, steadily, shockingly; managed with taut control and precise timing. There is a huge sadness, a harrowing tragedy to Eleanor - she tells us so often she is fine that we quickly realise she doesn't even fool herself - but despite this heartbreaking past, the book remains uplifting and powerful.
Eleanor is not after our pity and although we realise there is something about her that concerns and unsettles us, she is happy in her world. Her comments, observations and insights are so bold, hilarious and rude that we know Eleanor is fine. For now. And that helps keep the atmosphere of the book relatively humorous. The blunt language of Eleanor, her compelling narrative and her inability to recognise nuance and subtleties help us to cope with the conflict that lurks within her character. Alongside this narrative of her ordinary, mundane life we see also the fact that she is not fine; she is broken, she is lonely, she does not know love, affection or family. And her mother, well, she's a monster.
Honeyman's writing is actually quite astounding. She writes in Eleanor's voice consistently and never once in the novel did I feel the voice lost it's authenticity, originality and individuality. It never became too much, it never overplayed itself, it never relied on cliches or stereotypes, sensationalism or sentimentalism. I think this is one of the best examples of a well crafted character I have seen in a long while and it reminded me of The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allen, The Finding of Martha Lost and Carys Bray's novels. It also has a flavour of Graeme Simpson.
I loved the way Eleanor talked about herself so derogatorily without realising:
"Maybe he sensed back then, that I would never aspire to anything more than a poorly paid office job, that I would be content to stay with the company and save him the bother of ever having to recruit a replacement. Perhaps he could also tell that I'd never need to take time off to go on honeymoon, or request maternity leave. I don't know."
So many times I had to reread a phrase or pause because although Eleanor is often flippant - or perhaps realistic and practical, her comments are actually painfully sad. And despite her social awkwardness and her emotionally stunted behaviour, she is exceptionally shrewd and can sometimes see things for what they are in more clarity that the most educated professors in the world!
"The back office staff get paid a pittance, and so we can't afford much in the way of sharp haircuts and nerdy glasses. Clothes, music, gadgets - although the designers are desperate to be seen as freethinkers with unique ideas, they all adhere to a strict uniform. "
And does she realise when she's being funny? Her response to the cold caller was inspired and hilarious -
"I've been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently."
- but I never quite knew whether I should be laughing or whether I should be phoning social services. Who, by the way, are already there. But Eleanor, who is fine by the way, knows why they are there and helpfully informs them "I haven't become aware of any additional support needs, and I'm fully integrated into the community." I think this literalness and the way that Honeyman uses it so effectively, is why it never becomes forced or stylised. It always evokes more sympathy or poignancy from the reader which makes this book stand out as something special.
I mean, I could listen to Eleanor all day. Her observations about the "mating rituals" between the girl who "giggled like a simpleton" and the man, captured the exact gestures and sounds and movements that we have watched play out hundreds of times but never quite captured with the eloquence of Eleanor. I've taken out the other 5 quotes that really made me smile - you'll have to read the book yourself and find some that do the same for you. As Eleanor begins to learn a little bit more about the world around her, as people start to show her a kindness she never knew existed, Eleanor's candid comments become more and more poignant and weigh more heavily with something much deeper.
It's an amusing novel but it is also a very very sad one. The whole second section of the novel is called "Bad Days." Honeyman has not shied away from confronting the issues of mental health and abuse. She has not shied away from showing us that actually, Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine.
"It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination."
I did sigh when I finished the book. I did want to reach out and give Eleanor a squeeze. I did want to pause a little and have a moment to absorb the novel. And when I read through my quotes again before writing this, I felt all those mix of emotions again. I would have quite happily read this book from cover to cover again.
It's hard to categorise this novel and it is hard to say what you might expect from it or whether it is a light read, an easy read, a hard read, a thought provoking read, a sad read. It is different. It is unique. Like it's main protagonist, this novel is distinctive and memorable. There is only one Eleanor Oliphant and she is completely fine. There is only one book by Honeyman (so far - no pressure, I'm waiting....) and it is completely fine. Read it.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is published on 18th May 2017.
For more reviews and recommendations you can follow me on twitter @KatherineSunde3