My daughter recommended this prize-winning debut novel, as did a member of my writing group. I managed to get through it within days (it would have been sooner if I hadn’t drawn it out not quite wanting it to finish). Gail Honeyman’s debut novel is a stunner. Such a joy to have a book you do not want to end.
Eleanor Oliphant (I keep thinking elephant) is that girl we all know from school or work. We may even be her.
Slightly odd, wearer of old-fashioned clothes, a tad pedantic, the creature of habit who carries a shopping bag as a handbag, the person who rarely interacts but scuttles off home like a mouse at the end of her working day. The kind of person who struggles to socialise, the one others make fun of, yet who hears their laughter and unkind comments; the slightly superior outsider about whose life we know little.
The fact that she lives on Tesco pizza, despite having a penchant for good food, and survives by knocking back bottles of vodka until oblivion hits when on her own at weekends, makes her a sad and sorry sight.
She’s also extremely funny but in the way that someone who doesn’t quite get norms and values is funny. She is the person one somehow laughs at rather than with.
I read this paragraph out to my writing group:
Eleanor is drinking from her favourite mug:
“I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says ‘Top Gear’. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”
Eleanor’s daily life is set in Glasgow. She is a young woman scarred by the traumas of her childhood, both physically and mentally, but also emotionally. Disturbing weekly telephone calls with her dysfunctional and frankly manipulative mother maintain the sense of Eleanor as a victim, as her story unfolds. There is a twist in this tale at the end. I’m not sure whether I like the grip that ‘mother’ has on her psyche.
Yet, she also happens upon kindness, stealing away her loneliness, gradually drawing her into society, through an ordinary kind of a guy called Raymond.
Eleanor doesn’t fit, so she has to learn, a difficult and at times, hilarious process, but also a painful one. I originally thought Eleanor may be on the autistic spectrum. By the end, I’m not convinced she isn’t, but we uncover that, more importantly, she is badly damaged. Her social skills deficit may simply be the result of that.
I don’t want to write too much as it will ruin your enjoyment of the book. All I would say is just read it.