A story of survival, resilience, and personal growth for a lonely young woman
as she strives to overcome a truly horrendous childhood. Eleanor is a closed-off, formal, socially awkward woman who makes a friend - and her world opens up.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2018, 325 pages
This book made me laugh out loud (a pretty rare occurrence when reading) and get teary (a more common occurrence) and made me think. I'm not sure how a book can be all over the internet and on my shelf for months and when I finally pick it up to read it, I had no real idea what it was about. And that's a good thing. And this is a good book. (warning: a quote-heavy review!)
"After much reflection on the political and sociological aspects of the table, I have realized that I am completely uninterested in food. My preference is for fodder that is cheap, quick and simple to procure and prepare, whilst providing the requisite nutrients to enable a person to stay alive."
I can actually identify with this food quote - I often wish I could just have a Star Trek replicator so I didn't have to worry about it! And this one about fast food had me laughing out loud and reading it to my husband - funny but so apt - as Eleanor finds herself in a McDonalds for the first time.
"I was in a fast food restaurant for the first time in my adult life, an enormous and garish place .. .It was mystifyingly, inexplicably busy. I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from the paper? Afterward, despite having paid for it, the customers themselves are responsible for clearing away the detritus. Very strange."
After I got used to Eleanor's speaking voice, I loved it - the words! There were words I didn't know (palimpsest) because I always enjoy a new word! Language is a great thing! Here, in a moment of self-reflection she thought:
"I was neither curvaceous nor waiflike. I was normal-sized and normal-faced (on one side, anyway). Did men ever look in the mirror, I wondered, and find themselves wanting in deeply fundamental ways? When they opened a newspaper or watched a film, were they presented with nothing but exceptionally handsome young men, and did this make them feel intimidated, inferior, because they were not as young, not as handsome?"
"C U there E. I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I'd saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I'd tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn't made for illiteracy."
Eleanor is such a fully realized character. Her phobia of anything unsanitary, her compulsion to routine, her isolation, all work to build such a complete person. I loved her journey of self discovery as she slowly, slowly, learned to deal with the incomprehensible tragedy of her past and begins to connect with people (just a little) and look to the future. And what a delicious story of friendship - we should all be so lucky as to meet and appreciate someone like Raymond!
I'll end with this quote about books. Ah, Eleanor!
"I have always enjoyed reading, but I've never been sure how to select appropriate material. There are so many books in the world - how do you tell them all apart? How do you know which one will match your tastes and interests? That's why I just pick the first book I see. There's no point in trying to choose. The covers are of very little help, because they always say only good things, and I've found out to my cost that they're rarely accurate. 'Exhilarating', 'Dazzling', 'Hilarious'. No."
Do you detect the skill with which Honeyman skewers some of our current social situations? The book abounds with them. A reminder to self: try to be less judgmental with first impressions - remember everyone has a story.
photo Anthony Tran via unsplash.com