How many debuts have I read in gone 2 years? Hardly 10. Sole reason being- there is so much already accomplished work that I’m yet to read; so, to experiment with a debut always seemed bit dubious to me. But, with time, I’ve come to accept what I had realized long back- there’ll never be enough time, in fact enough life, to finish reading everything. And, thus, I took the decision of reading at least two debut books of the year.
This year’s (technically 2017’s) was “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. EOICF is Gail’s debut, which even before getting published had gotten adorned with an award. It is a book that, within a year of its release, was chosen to be adapted into a movie. It is a book which one of my dear friends, Lynne, recommended me. Then there was that intriguing book-cover too. Having gotten amazing rating on Goodreads in such a short span of time, I decided to take my chance with EOICF.
A brief abstract before starting with the whyS and howS of my reading experience- It’s a slow read. Really slow. With scenarios and situations too common. And, perhaps, that is why relatable. Not any life-changing crossroads (well, not many) or dilemmas for our characters. But, only some lefts and rights. Not any suspense (well, you may take the leisure to think that). Yet, by the end, it’ll be all worth it.
As it usually happens with the chance-taken books, it took me some time to get to understand my connection with the book. Initially, as anticipated, I took a mental-note of rating this book as 3-starer. For, till then, the story was just about a woman stalking a locally-famous musician. It did not interest me. And I started questioning the choice of my friend, and, on that, my reading-choices on the basis of which she recommended me the book. (Too quick to judge, I know.) But, as the story progressed, and the tangents scattered around, another mental-note was in progress- surely a 4-starer. And well, by the end, it progressed to a 5.
“Interestingly, despite my wide-range literary tastes, I haven’t come across many heroines called Eleanor, in any of the variant spellings. Perhaps that’s why the name was chosen for me.”
OEICF is a fine piece of storytelling. It tells a story not so fancy, yet intriguingly real. A story has to seem real, not seemingly-real, but real-real, and this novel had one such impactful story. The jewel of this book is its simplicity. Which is not so simple to achieve. The whole story moves smoothly from one phase to the other. Scenes do not feel forced. Transitions are not in any sense messy. I’m not a psychology student, but as the person who doesn’t have academic background, I found that Gail has handled even the psychological part, which is in the core of the story, very delicately and with full efficiency; she has neither overstated it, nor belittled it.
When I started the book, I developed an instant connection with Eleanor, the narrator. (The whole book is narrated as a first-person account.) She is an independent 30-year old woman, who lives in a house, alone, and has been working for a company for almost a decade. The moment we get such description, our immediate thought is- a poor lonely woman, a lonely spinster maybe. But what we, usually, always, fail to think of is the backstory. There always is one. A backstory. Isn’t it?
We can’t say about others, but Eleanor Oliphant certainly has one. The book wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
“You don’t miss what you’ve never had.“
Life throws curveballs. From time to time. Irregularly. To test us. To strengthen us. To destroy us. But to some, it happens to throw just one. One strong enough to do it all. All at once. Once and for all. Eleanor was fine before the curveball, she was fine after it, and she has been fine all this while. Because that is what we always are, aren’t we? We are always fine. Always.
When was the last time when, on being asked about your well-being, you had said- ‘I’m not fine’? Probably never. Because we don’t do that. We do not say it aloud when we aren’t fine. We do not post our pictures while undergoing an emotional dry spell. We do not show it when the insides are screaming and howling and suffering. All we say, and post, and show, is fine.
“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.
Gail, the author, has narrated a story so realistic so smoothly that, when I finished it, I had hard time believing that it is over. Just like that… it is finished. Gail has dealt with the subject of loneliness and depression in such a lucid yet subtle manner that, I’m sure, it will hit home for each of its readers at least once. For some, maybe more. Loneliness comes in all forms and shapes- happy faces to grooving bodies, loneliness has its home everywhere. There’s this small passage in the book, which just says it all-
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer- a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.“
Through some situations, we’re thrust into the human nature’s reality- how quick we are to judge someone by their clothes or footwear or hygiene. How quick to throw someone off the radar of good people just because they have a hole in one of their shoes, or because they do not smell of lavender. I cannot believe if Gail says that she had just made up that scene. (You’d know the scene when you read the book.) She had had to have witnessed such a situation, or been a part of it. It just seemed so real to have been made up.
The way Eleanor speaks might be an issue to some readers. It was to me too, until I was halfway of the book. With many pages in, I had realized that that is how Eleanor is- an extremely well-behaved and well-spoken woman, who is raised (by her own self) to speak like a mid-1900’s woman. With sophistication, if possible, in every word. “Assiduous” is not used in spoken word in regular conversations, but Eleanor uses it. Yes, it is hard to believe to picture such character to exist in real in 2017, but it is not unrealistic. If anything, it is far from being unrealistic.
If Gail had put a horn on Eleanor’s forehead, or wings on her back, I’d have had hard time to believe in her characters, or in her story. A woman in 2017 talking in a particular outdated manner is highly believable.
You might think that you have figured it all out, that you’ve managed to decrypt the whole backstory, but have you really done so? I had thought the same, and well, I was proven wrong. Just wait, have patience, and you will be proved wrong too. But the bright side is- you will feel good about it, you will feel good to have been proven wrong, to have let the book do its work.
The cover of this book has its own appeal. Using burnt matchsticks- I’d have to say, ‘Brilliantly witty!’ The relevance, as it should, falls into its place with time.
Other than 2-3 minor glitches in the stretch of 385 pages, there wasn’t a thing that could bother me. Then why not
to this amazing read, I couldn’t comprehend. Now, I know why Lynne recommended me this book. Yes, now I know.
So, in the end, I’d say- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and, so would you be.
Have you read the book? If yes, do let me know of your experience. Was it far from being good for you? Or far from being bad? Share. Share. Share.
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