Author : Gail Honeyman
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Publication Date: 9th May 2017
My Rating: ★★★★✬ 4.5 stars
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
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 happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
There are not many books I have read this year that make me want to write a review and gush about how great they are minutes after finishing them. This book is one of them. Gail Honeyman has created a wonderful character in Eleanor who is a survivor although a very damaged individual. She has been bounced around the foster system ever since an incident involving her mother who it is implied was incarcerated when Eleanor was ten years old and she only has very sketchy memories of her childhood.
Eleanor is highly intelligent and she seems to enjoy her accounts job and is in many ways a model employee but after work she has her vodka, which suppresses any feelings she has. But she is not a normal young woman, she seems to be incredibly old fashioned, prim and proper and reminded me hugely of a teacher that I had at school (Miss Stothard if you are reading this, its you) who everybody assumed was around 50 but was half that age. She has no interest in cloths or her appearance apart from keeping herself clean and has no social graces at all, and all that is completely fine. All until she develops a crush on an attractive singer and it all starts crumbling.
This book is often hilarious, mainly in the ways that Eleanor’s mind works and the things that she doesn’t understand.
If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, Ill think “What would a ferret do?” Invariably I find the right answer.
Eleanor is lonely, she comments that her kitchen table is a place where nobody else other than her has ever sat there. This changes when she encounters Raymond the office IT guy who becomes a friend.
Raymond, is such and unlikely hero, he smokes, is not particularly attractive, but he is friendly and unassuming and he loves his mum. He and Eleanor become pals and he is probably the only true friend that she has ever had. I think it is because he is so non-threatening that she lets him in.
The book is sectioned up into three parts, the first Good Days, the Second Bad days and the final section Better days.
I drank it with the focused, single-minded determination of a murder, but my thoughts just could not, would not be drowned – like ugly, bloated corpses, they continued to float to the surface in all their pale, gas-filled ugliness.
The good days are when Eleanor is coping, managing work and maintaining the status quo, the Bad days are when she hits rock bottom and then a description of her recovery and Better days are the epilogue.
I noticed part way in that some of the characters names where taken straight out of Jane Eyre there is a Mr Brocklehurst, and Mr and Mrs Reed and a Miss Scratcherd and I wondered, especially at the time as it revealed that Eleanor is a frequent reader of that book if that had some deeper meaning.
I love the fact that this book is told in the first person and we discover what happened to Eleanor at the same time that she does more or less.
I am sure we have all met people like Eleanor, people with few social graces. Not all of them have dramatic histories but there is so much in this book that anybody can relate to. It is bittersweet, very funny and in the end life affirming and uplifting. If you like well developed and believable characters especially of people with huge flaws and history then this is a book you should read. You will love it.
Buy this book on Wordery
Gail Honeyman is a writer with loads of promise. This is her debut novel and it was written over two years whilst she worked full time in an admin post at the University of Glasgow. This book was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize before it was finished and her agent signed her straight after as she was one of the judges.
She tweets at@GailHoneyman