Sunday 23 July 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

I simply didn't know how to make things better. I couldn't solve the puzzle of me. 

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. That, combined with her unusual appearance (scarred cheek, tendency to wear the same clothes year in, year out), means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kind of friends who rescue each other from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

* * * *
4 / 5 

I found this book quite hard to read. Definitely a change of tone and genre from the kind of book that I normally peruse, Eleanor Oliphant's synopsis intrigued me. A young woman with poor social skills, a quiet life of small routines that is changed when she and Raymond, an awkward man from work, help an elderly man who had fallen on the pavement. It's a touching, thoughtful, and overall lovely work from a debut author. 

I do exist, don't I? It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth

Good days. Or so it seems - Eleanor Oliphant's life is okay in every sense of the word. She has a roof over her head, a job that doesn't risk her life, her financial situation is fairly stable. She's along because she chooses to be and everything in her life can be timetabled. Eleanor's life is grey. In fact, she herself is a rather grey character; she's a sympathetic character with a difficult past. But she's also socially terrible and refers to her mother, unironically, as Mummy. Her life is just fine until two separate events occur:

One: She meets Raymond the IT guy. He's friendly but can't seem to dress himself, easy-going and Eleanor is just not interested in talking to him. But if she wants to get her work computer fixed, she's going to have to.

Two: Eleanor and Raymond walk home in vaguely the same direction (she doesn't want anyone to know where she lives) when the see an elderly man fall. Eleanor wants to just keep walking, but Raymond insists on stopping to see if he's okay. The two end up visiting Sammy in hospital; Raymond because he's a nice man, Eleanor because she feels some vague sense of social obligation.

"Oh yes," she said, and I heard her dismissive sideways hiss of cigarette smoke. "It was just that I wanted to tell you that you're a pointless waste of human tissue. That was all. Bye then, darling!" she said, bright as knife. Silence. 

Bad days. I found this section of the book genuinely very difficult to read. I had to keep putting it down and walking away to do something else because Honeyman captured very well that sense of despair and gloom that depression can bring. The futileness, the anger, the self-pity. The greyness. Then there's Eleanor's own personal tragedy, slowly revealed through therapist appointments, flashbacks, and Eleanor's introspective thoughts.

I began to realise the truth. I blinked again and again, as though my eyes were trying to clear the view before them, and it crystallised. 

Better days. The more hopeful, heartwarming part. The recovery and the moving on. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a excellent book, thoughtful and clever. It is perhaps a little rough in a debut author sort of way - the ending was a little jarring, Eleanor perhaps verged into being an unsympathetic character a couple of times, the metaphors a little too kooky - but it is an emotional and heart-jerking read. Highly recommend.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. 

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