Monday, 2 April 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Totally Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is having a bit of a moment, as well she should. Ever since the release mid last year Eleanor has been everywhere. There's been so much buzz, everyone is reading it, she's already won some prizes (big ones like the Costa First Novel Award) and been nominated for even more (big ones like The Womens Prize). Eleanor is even spear heading a new genre, Up Lit, "novels of kindness and compassion".

One detail that I wasn't aware of before I started reading is that Gail Honeyman is Scottish and Eleanor Oliphant lives in Glasgow. Eleanor is 29, and she lives what most of us would consider a sad and lonely life. She lives alone, she is an accounts receivable clerk at a mid-size graphic design firm, and she lives a regimented, regulated life.
From Monday to Friday, I come in at 8.30. I take an hour for lunch. I used to bring in my own sandwiches, but the food at home always went off before I could use it up, so now I get something from the high street. I always finish with a trip to Marks and Spencer on a Friday, which rounds off the week nicely. I sit in the staffroom with my sandwich and I read the newspaper from cover to cover, and then I do the crosswords. I take the Daily Telegraph, not because I like it particularly, but because it has the best cryptic crossword. I don't talk to anyone- by the time I've bought my Meal Deal, read the paper and finished both crosswords, the hour is almost up. I go back to my desk and work till 5.30. The bus home takes half an hour. 
She is fully aware that she is separate.
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 that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I'd lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. 
Yet Eleanor appears to have accepted her difference, accepted her solitary life.
I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I'm a sole survivor- I'm Eleanor Oliphant. I don't need anyone else- there's no hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That is what I've always told myself, at any rate. 
Although the 2 bottles of vodka each weekend would argue against this happiness with her life. One day things change as Eleanor sees a man collapse on the street and she assists him with a colleague, Raymond from IT.

I like books in a Quirky first person voice, and Eleanor certainly has that. Perhaps a bit much at times though. Eleanor is socially awkward, she has stilted speech, and a literal understanding of the world so of course there are a number of fish-out-of-water scenarios.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a meditation on loneliness, on friendship, on social mores.
If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say. 
I quite enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Totally Fine, but didn't love it as much as almost everyone else seems to have. Sometimes Eleanor's naiveté and quirkiness seemed forced to me, she's intelligent, well read and yet so oblivious to so many things. Still it a fascinating debut novel from Gail Honeyman, and I'll certainly read her next book whenever that comes. 
The character grew, Honeyman explains, out of a newspaper article she read years earlier about the problem of loneliness. “At the time it was something that wasn’t discussed much and when it was, it was usually in the context of older people who are widowed or whose families have moved away.”
Reese Witherspoon has apparently bought the film rights, and I do think that Eleanor will make a great film handled right, although I really hope that her Scottish context is preserved, but fear that it won't and it'll ruin the movie like they did with The Girl on the Train. 

1 comment:

Marg said...

I was seriously close to picking this up the other day. I probably will eventually. Always a bit slow to jump on bandwagon's here.