Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman.

            It is clear from the very first page of this unputdownable little book that Eleanor Oliphant is anything BUT fine:  as she tells us, she lives alone in a flat provided by Social Services, furnished with odds and ends by Social Services, and the only people who visit are repairmen, if they are needed. 
She works as an accounts clerk at a Graphic Design company, and her work colleagues regard her as the office eccentric when they are feeling kind, and the butt of ‘mental’ imitations when they’re not.  It is not an easy existence for Eleanor, but she’s completely fine with it – mostly;  it’s just that the weekends tend to drag a bit and time has to be killed with Vodka in fairly large quantities, especially if she has had a phone call from Mummy.  Mummy is incarcerated in ‘A Bad Place for Bad People’ but she still calls regularly, first to ooze pseudo-love and concern for her only daughter, then to hammer her into the ground with numerous examples of Eleanor’s failure to achieve anything, much less a normal life with normal friendships.  Eleanor must buck up her absurd little ideas:  she needs to find a Project! 
Yes, the weekends can be tricky. 
Until through a chance encounter she sees a music group performing and falls instantly in love with the lead singer:  this God is for her, she decides.  He will be her Project, her means to enter normal society on the arm of a Local Celeb.  For she knows that she must change herself for her own survival, to stop being a victim of her mother’s terrible scorn.  So (much to the surprise of Eleanor’s workmates), Eleanor decides to transform herself;  a new hairstyle and wardrobe  reduce her colleagues to shocked silence, and a ‘you look nice’ from the firm’s computer engineer Raymond (he of the unshaven cheeks, fat tum and horrid T shirts) produces an unexpected blush:  her transformation must be successful!  It won’t be long now before she can effect a ‘chance’ meeting with the God;  then she can start the journey on the road to normality.  She can forget about The Incident – the memories of which keep surfacing like the tips of rocks in a stormy sea:  The Incident, too awful to think about consciously, even though she carries scars on her face and body as a permanent, terrible reminder.  Yes, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine, her life has to change radically, but she is the one who has to do it.
Ms Honeyman’s debut novel is masterly;  she has created a protagonist who could be Everywoman – Everywoman who suffered a terrible incident as a child, and how she coped with the aftermath and crippling loneliness.  Ms Honeyman writes with great humour and empathy and her minor characters are gems, especially Raymond, steady, good-hearted and Eleanor’s first real ‘pal’, even though his table manners are appalling and he sends her electronic communications saying ‘C U Soon’.  (Eleanor has a degree in Classics and she feels utter contempt for those who use abbreviations and can’t master the correct use of apostrophes.)  I was sorry to reach the end of this lovely story, sorry to leave Eleanor even though her journey on the Road to Normality had so many pitfalls.  She’s a great character – and deserves another book!  SIX STARS!!        

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