Wednesday, 16 May 2018

You can't have too much dog in a book

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"You can't have too much dog in a book" according to Eleanor Oliphant. It is perhaps the one failing of Jane Eyre, she thinks. But then Eleanor Oliphant is a bit odd. People don't understand her and she finds it difficult to make friends. We very quickly learn that she's had at least one abusive experience, since she turned up for a job interview "with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm." There are little clues in the text that lead us to suspect that Eleanor has suffered something much more dreadful, and this has probably influenced her behaviour and self-imposed loneliness. Things start to change when Eleanor finds the love of her life wearing "the bottom button of his waistcoat unfastened", and when she develops a friendship with the office IT guy, Raymond, who wears "a T-shirt showing a cartoon dog, lying on top of its kennel".

Set in Glasgow, the story is narrated by Eleanor, but the expressions she uses and her way of talking give the impression that something is not quite right. She says things that don't make sense, suggesting her version of events is not necessarily reliable. Her language is very formal, and her use of the word "Mummy" is particularly unsettling.

The story was tragicomic, in that it made me both laugh and cry. Eleanor's description of Hell was very amusing: "the soundtrack to the screaming, the pitchfork action and the infernal wailing of damned souls would be a looped medley of 'show tunes' drawn from the annals of musical theatre." Her dislike of geraniums took me right back to childhood: "that rich, sticky scent when you brush against them, a brackish, vegetable smell that's the opposite of floral." And then I shed a tear quite a few times with Eleanor, even tho' I was uncertain of just what she was crying about.

It's Gail Honeyman's first novel, and just like another favourite of mine, Notes on a Scandal, its treatment of loneliness had an emotional appeal. Eleanor Oliphant thought she was fine but I wanted her to be more than that. I wanted her to be happy.

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