Tag Archives: Literary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman

9780735220683

Books like this one make it easy to fulfil my promise of writing reviews. A much recommended book by two discerning reader friends (Devna & Kiranjeet: Thanks from the bottom of my bibliophilic heart), I downloaded it onto my kindle.

The story is rather straightforward. It revolves around the main protagonist, most obviously, Eleanor Oliphant and her dealings with the world. Ms Oliphant, as she would appreciate my addressing her, is not your run-in-the-mill kinda girl, she’s got issues. And her issues are not minor skirmishes with the world we all face, for she is a girl who looks at the world with different lenses from yours and mine. If you’ve read the Rosie Project or seen The Big Bang Theory, you would recognise in Eleanor similar oddly charming and socially challenging characteristics as Don Tillman and Sheldon Cooper. But, where the difference lies is that there lurks a sinister shadow in Eleanor’s life which the writer peels away layer by layer.

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old and a weird creature of habits. She needs her days to run just so. She has her meals in a certain way and at certain timings. She has worked at her first job for 9 years and has not ever thought of making any changes. One day Eleanor is thrown out of her comfort zone of her regulated schedules by two incidents: the first is when she sees the man she decides is the one she must marry and the second when she is drawn into helping an old man who has collapsed on the street. Both these incidents compel her to begin making serious changes in the way she lives. While the romantic interlude is planned by her in meticulous detail of self-improvement. The other results in throwing her life into a kilter. Where Gail Honeyman walks away my five star rating is how she makes Eleanor slowly creep into my heart as living, breathing relatable character.

Eleanor’s is a story about loneliness so intense it took my breathe away. She is 30 years old and asks: I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. She has not a single friend in the world, there are days when she is lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether her to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. She has worked in the same firm for 9 years and the threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday, but no one knows anything about her. Besides a social worker no one has ever walked over the threshold of her home. This is where the story begins. Honeyman points out a facet of modern day society which is alarmingly true: 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.

This also a heart-warming tale of friendship, of finding there are people who care, if we let them. Eleanor finds in Raymond a friend with whom she finds the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was big enough to let in a bit of affection. There was still a tiny bit of room.

But, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine till she faces the sinister demons lurking on every page of her life. She needs to acknowledge the ghosts of her childhood in order to overcome the scars on her heart, just as thick and disfiguring as those on her face. Despite her self-imposed loneliness hope lingers in her heart, as she confesses in her own words, I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.

Reading up till now you might consider the book to be a sad and heavy story to be picked up with care. On the contrary Honeyman has incorporated delightful moments with Eleanor navigating the perplexing world. Eleanor’s self-improvement endeavours are hilarious, her observations on bikini waxes, manicures and high heels and why Starbucks needs to write her name on a cup had me in splits. She is shamelessly judgemental and delightfully perfect in her assessments of the human foibles. Her tactless comments are so refreshing, and to be honest we all think the same stuff as her, but just don’t utter it out aloud.

Some books leave you dissatisfied with the way they end. Some may feel the same for this one, however, I was not. Gail Honeyman has, with the end of the book done what is rarely done by authors: she has acted with a mature restraint. Would love to know if you agree. Read the book and do let me know.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

images

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder By Emma Donoghue, begins with a gloomy portrayal of a beautiful country, Ireland. Having visited the vibrant island a few months back, I was disconcerted to read Donoghue’s lacklustre words. What a contrast I thought to myself. Was the author, I speculated, giving credence to the main character Lib, by reflecting a British nurse’s prejudices towards the Irish? As I read further it struck me, that Emma Donoghue was employing the Gothic style of writing. The term Gothic in itself is intriguing, isn’t it? Gothic Literature refers to the style of writing that employs elements of fear, horror, gloom, death as well as romantic elements, such as nature, individuality, and very high emotion. These emotions can include fear and suspense. Set just a few years after the an Gorta Mór, The Irish Potato Famine (1845 – 1849) a period of mass starvation and disease, the famine remains a formidable character in the background of the story.

With hunger a dominant theme in the book, the story revolves around 11 year-old Anna O’ Donnell who has refused to eat for four months and still survives. The devout believe this is a miracle and flock to the O’ Donnell’s cabin to kiss the hems of this living saint. The cynical believe it is a hoax. So how is the dilemma to be resolved? A committee is formed comprising the influential of the village: a landlord, a doctor who believes Anna is his greatest scientific discovery, a priest who wishes to protect his church at all costs and a tavern owner. Each one has their own vested interest in proving the child is indeed a miracle. Anna needs to be observed and a period of two weeks is decided upon where the girl will be watched every waking and sleeping moment. But who would do the watching? Two nurses are hired – one from England, a pupil  of Florence Nightingale, the other a Sister of Mercy,  who has devoted her entire life in service to the sick. One nurse is an Irish Catholic nun and the other a British woman of science. What could be a more impartial watch.

I know a book is good when I read and get sucked into it. When I can see the characters as if they were walking parallelly with me. As I read The Wonder, I could feel the coldness of the rain and roughness of Lib’s tweed nursing uniform. The starched rustle of Sister Michael’s habit sent a my nerves jangling. I fell for the handsome William Byrne, so jaded by his profession who recognised the truth of Anna’s condition quicker than the trained nurse, Lib. I recoiled from the squalor of the O’Donnell’s cabin just like Lib and wanted to straighten out the sheets of Anna’s bed with her. I could taste the peat in the oatcakes served to Lib and identify with the guilt of eating in front of a child who had not eaten for months. While I could understand the love of a father in Malachy O’Donnell, yet like Lib not reconcile to his dumb acceptance. As a mother I could not even begin to comprehend the character of Rosaleen O’ Donnell.  I felt sorry for the slavey, Kitty who collapsed every night onto the hearth. But most of all I could relate to Lib’s scepticism, her determined pursuit to expose the fraud and then her horror at the unimagined truth she uncovers. The revelations at the end are not really surprising, yet had me gasping in horror.

This book reveals the power of religion over a devout child misguided by the adults who should have been protecting her. Zealotry is not something I understand. Not overtly devout, I found Anna’s faith difficult to connect to. With all kinds of deafening religious debate blocking out all sounds of sensible discourse these days, I found in this book the dangers of being ‘God fearing’. When the tenets of religion provoke only a sense of fear in the minds of children, there is something very wrong with what is being preached. Saying that, I cannot help but admire the power of religion over individuals. Or is it the power of the so-called upholders of religion – the preachers screaming from the pulpits? This is not a comment on one, but on religion at large. Today we see a world where children are used as suicide bombers, where in the name of saving cows they are lynched, and mobs attack a bus full of school children in the name of upholding the honour of a fictitious historical character. Which leads me to ask that one question which I’m sure all of us ask: When will they, the preachers, realise that they have an obligation to the people for whom they have made their bond of reverence?

I am part of three Bookclubs, I read The Wonder with one of them. A question asked there had me stumped: Who was or what was The Wonder in this book? I cannot find the answer, as I debate with myself: Was is Anna, the girl who did not eat? Was it Rosaleen O’Donnell’s style of mothering? Was it Lib’s commitment to her patient? Was it a priest’s need to protect his church at all costs? Was it a Doctor’s need to leave a legacy? Was it the acrid aftertaste left by the author’s skill that made me reluctant to write this review? What was it that overwhelmed me, I do not know. I hope, dear reader, you can answer this one for me.

To read more of my Book Reviews please click on:

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/the-truth-about-the-harry-quebert-affair/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2018/01/16/book-review-before-we-were-yours/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/book-review-a-window-to-her-dreams/

https://vasudhachandnagulati.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/in-the-light-of-darkness-book-review/