“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it; once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself.”
Author: Gail Honeyman Published: 2017 Pages: 383
I have seen this book around for a while now, and everyone seemed to be raving about how good it was. So when my book club members chose it as the first book to discuss, I was excited to read the book I’d heard so much about. Eleanor Oliphant leads a quite unextraordinary life; she works in an office, waters her plants, and listens to The Archers. She doesn’t like her colleagues, and does not own a phone or laptop. She is content to exist mostly alone, and watch the rest of the world go on around her. When one day, her and a man called Raymond call an ambulance for an elderly gentleman who has collapsed in the street, Eleanor’s life begins to intertwine with others – a first for her. And once Raymond and Sammy are a part of her lives, she begins to question her own upbringing and the reasons she did not have a childhood like everyone else’s. But can Eleanor survive any longer without confronting the deamons in her past?
Honeyman touches on so many issues in the book; loneliness, mental illness, friendship, guilt, and abuse. With all of those being somehow discussed throughout, it meant the book was raw and painful in places, but I never felt like it affected the pace of the novel. Partly, I think this had to do with the tone of the narrator; Eleanor, being a little unconventional, had a way of describing events, especially those which were traumatic, in a very matter-of-fact way. She had spent a lot of her life detaching herself from emotion, so when she did deliver shocking information to the reader, it made it all the more shocking, while also not that surprising.
Raymond was a great character for me, he was reassuring and constant and for Eleanor, he reminded her that not everyone in the world is unpleasant and intolerable. Raymond was Eleanor’s rock throughout the novel, and it was nice to see that she finally had someone to look out for her.
The character of ‘Mummy’ was so unhinged and yet calm, that the overall effect was both unnerving and horrifying. Every time there was an interaction between Eleanor and her mother, I just wanted to reach into the pages of the book and protect Eleanor from the torrent of abuse her mother constantly gave her. While Eleanor was somewhat unconventional in her behaviour, after encountering her mother, it became clear how confusing, painful and abusive her childhood must have been.
This novel successfully raises awareness of loneliness and the lifelong affect of abusive relationships. Honeyman creates and character with which the reader can find sympathy, but stops short of pity. This is because while Eleanor struggles with many things, she proves constantly throughout just how strong she can be, and if nothing else, that she is more than the labels her past has given her.