Tag Archives: Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Hopefully in the future realms of time, if my plans work out which they are often unlikely to do, this won’t be noticeable as the blog post that ‘brought Savidge Reads back’ after some time away. Yet when I was thinking about which book I should ‘come back’ with it seemed Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was the most apt as it is the book I have talked about the most in a literal sense in the last year or so. The reason for that being that is was the winner of the category (debuts) I judged for last year’s Costa Awards. It is the book that I have had some of the most heated conversations about, not with my fellow judges (Sandy and Sophie who were both a joy) though we talked about it at length, with people in my day to day life who felt very strongly one way or the other and were surprised when it won. I wasn’t surprised. No, not because I knew in advance, ha, but because I think it is a book that can appeal to anyone and does a huge variety of things, with so many layers, and remains wonderfully readable – a word which can open a huge can of worms but I am not literary snob and embrace the joys of readability. Anyway, the book…

Harper Collins, paperback, 2018, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the Costa Awards

 When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost eight years, no one’s ever asked me what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether it’s just that people hear the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at keyboard. I’m not complaining. I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.

And so we are thrown into the life of Eleanor Oliphant a woman whom to many would seem in the centre of society, with a decent job her own home etc, but who actually has become someone much more on the periphery of society that the facade of a ‘steady life’ would let on. She does her nine to five, Monday to Friday, and at the end of the latter she buys herself a few margarita pizzas and a couple of bottles of vodka and drinks the weekend away. It is here that the novel then takes two paths, though with many layers. Firstly we wonder why it is that Eleanor has found herself in this position and secondly we wonder how this cycle might be broken.

It is the latter that unfolds itself first. Walking home with a colleague Ray, who seems to want to befriend Eleanor much to her confusion, they witness an elderly man collapse and in helping him become embroiled further with each other and Sammy. A turning point in Eleanor’s life has come, even if she doesn’t really see it as an opportunity she particularly wants, the question is how she will deal with it? Especially when she has recently become besotted with a local pop star who she thinks she is destined to marry.

As to why Eleanor has ended up so isolated and alone, Honeyman does something which I really admired – if admittedly it does go a little twist-tatsic (I might trademark that) towards the end. We get a slow reveal which is at once heartbreaking but also eye opening. It is hard to say anything for fear of spoilers but there is some serious trauma in her past which we are slowly alluded to. For me the most heartbreaking moments were much more subtle, and this is what I hope to see lots more of in Honeyman’s writing in the future, where a single paragraph says so much within its subtext and the reader can start to fill in the blanks to much emotional effect.

 She came with me from my childhood bedroom, survived the rough treatment in foster placements and children’s homes and, like me, she’s still here. I’ve looked after her, tended to her, picked her up and repotted her when she was dropped or thrown. She likes the light, and she’s thirsty. Apart from that, she requires minimal care and attention, and largely looks after herself. I talk to her sometimes, I’m not ashamed to admit it. When the silence and aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me like ice, I need to speak aloud, if only for proof of life.

That makes this novel sound like it is a misery feast and that is not the case at all, often I found myself chuckling along as I read. (I have said many a time on this blog in the past that a good dose of comedy can make the darker parts of a book all the more so.) As Eleanor reluctantly forces herself out into the world more and more the deadpan comedy comes in many high street spaces such as her first visit for a wax. ‘Hollywood’, I said, finally. ‘Holly would, and so would Eleanor’. Yet, again, here Honeyman does something which I think is very clever, she occasionally blurs the lines between when we are laughing with and laughing at Eleanor. A short sharp shock every now and again that we are doing exactly what those horrid co-workers are doing we dislike so much at the start. This isn’t intended as judgement, it is simply a reminder to check ourselves once in a while, to be kinder.

That said Eleanor is not always particularly kind herself. But her flaws and quirks are what make her such an interesting character. Her directness often made me ponder if we are meant to assume that she is on the autistic scale, though sometimes she is just simply rude to people. This is a woman though who has been so much on the sidelines of the world that everything seems as at odds with her as she as with it. It also reminds us that not everyone is instantly loveable but they are always relatable and there is almost always, if we make the effort to look and don’t expect everyone to come to us, an ‘in’ to their world.

 When Raymond returned, I paid for lunch, since he had paid last time; I was really starting to get the hang of the concept of a payment schedule. He insisted on leaving the tip, however. Five pounds! All the man had done was carry our food from the kitchen to the table, a job for which he was already being recompensed by the cafe owner. Raymond was reckless and profligate – no wonder he couldn’t afford proper shoes or an iron.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is very much like its central character; quirky, funny, frank and honest. Once you look past that facade it is also brimming with layers about being different but not being obviously or any stereotype of different. It is a blunt, yet digestible which is not always easy, look at the awful nature of loneliness and how easy it can be to become a loner. It is also about hope and a reminder that we should never judge anyone by any assumptions we might make of them. I applaud it for all of these things.

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Gail Honeyman, Harper Collins, Review

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Longlist

Oh how I love this time of year, when we find out the longlist of one of my very favourite book prizes, the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Every year I make an effort to guess the longlist (which I did on Youtube here) of which I invariably get about two or three right (somehow I guessed seven this year) but have huge fun in doing so before the longlist is announced and then read the longlist when it is actually announced. Which has just happened and here are the sixteen books that have made it this year…

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  • H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Trick To Time by Kit De Waal
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Whilst there might be some of my favourite books from the last twelve months missing I have to say this is one of the most eclectic and exciting longlists that I have seen in some time. And as with every year I will be joining in, especially as for the first time ever I actually have all the books, so it would be silly not to. I have already read five of the books, in italics with a link to the Schmidt which I adored, and may have another three in my luggage in Venice so have a good head start, and I will be reviewing (yes, those things are back) those I have read plus the ones I read as I go, as soon as I am back from holiday/honeymoon.

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Which have you read and what did you think of them? Are their any surprise inclusions of exclusions in your opinion? Let’s have a chat about it all in the comments below.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness, Women's Prize for Fiction, Women's Prize for Fiction 2018

The Costa Book Awards Category Winners 2017

It only seems the other day that I was getting asked to judge the Costa Book Awards (a moment that left me in a 50/50 mixture of shock and delight) and now my job is done as we announce the category  winners, I was judging the debut category if you missed it. So here they all are…

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Costa Children’s Book of the Year: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Costa Poetry Collection of the Year: Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
Costa Biography of the Year: In The Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott
Costa Novel of the Year: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Costa First Novel of the Year: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

So there you have it. These five books now go head to head for the Costa Book of the Year 2017 and I have decided I am going to read them in time for the party (which I am taking my mother to, she is thrilled) and the announcement on Tuesday January 30th 2018. It also means I can finally share some reviews of the Costa shortlisted books I have read and some of the submissions that didn’t make the debut shortlist but I am desperate to talk to you about and send you off to read. All in due course.

So what do you make of the category winners? Which have you read and what did you think? Which really take your fancy and which do you think will win, I would love to know all of this, so do tell me in the comments below.

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Random Savidgeness