That’s what we say, isn’t it? Even when we’re anything but fine.
Eleanor Oliphant is completely sure she is completely fine. She has a degree in classics, a flat and a job. She arrives at work punctually, has never taken a day off sick and doesn’t take all her annual leave. True, her workmates find her unsociable and her manner is over formal, old fashioned and that she has some odd ideas – all gleaned from ‘Mummy’. Eleanor is lonely, acutely lonely, existing through crosswords, interesting television documentaries and a bottle of vodka drunk over the course of the weekend. She has no friends and doesn’t feel the need to acquire any, except, well, it might be nice, she thinks, to share life with a significant other.
On a rare visit to a gig, Eleanor develops a crush on a musician, Johnny Lomond (Tweeting as JohnnyRocks). She is quite sure he is the one. Starting with a painful bikini wax (an unusual first step in a fashion makeover), she devotes her energy and resources into her ‘project’ to get Johnny Lomond. Meanwhile, her computer at work malfunctions so she has to call Raymond, the IT techie. When he arrives at her desk to fix it, she extends her hand and introduces herself as ‘Miss Oliphant’. Eleanor disapproves of Raymond, the casual way he wears his clothes, his speech, his emails, his timekeeping and his table manners.
One evening Eleanor and Raymond, happening to leave the office at the same time, see an elderly man, who is carrying shopping across the road, collapse. Eleanor is all for doing nothing, remarking that the man is probably drunk, by Raymond goes straight in to help and, instinctively, involves Eleanor. This is the point where some sunshine begins to creep into Eleanor’s lonely life, bitterly resisted at first, but, incrementally, with Raymond – a saint on the printed page – she thaws. They become friends, close friends.
But what about the musician, Johnny Lomond? What indeed? He doesn’t know that he is supposed to be ‘the one’ for Eleanor, because she hasn’t met him face-to-face. Can he really be the solution to all Eleanor’s loneliness, her relationship with her poisonous ‘Mummy’
, unpleasant reminisces of her early childhood and of being in foster care, and of some terrible ‘fire’ which she prefers to suppress?
This is the first novel published by Gail Honeyman. She writes with confidence, setting the action in Glasgow, a city with which she is clearly familiar. Eleanor’s character – old fashioned, prudish, snobbish, judgmental and brittle – is spectacular, spectacularly imagined and spectacularly depicted. Raymond is a welcome, normal counter-balance. It’s unusual to have the computer man as the normal one, also refreshing.
The plot rambles from time to time, but never loses its thread. By half way through, the ending has become pretty obvious, and there are no twists, but it’s a satisfying ending.
This novel stands out against everything I’ve read recently. I go back to the word I used before – spectacular.