Mum gave me 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman and I read it during the readathon a couple of weeks ago. Eleanor is plainly a little odd, she likes life just so. It reminded me very intensely of the song 'The day before you came' which describes a character with a routine and empty life. Some unmentionable trauma marks her childhood and her life is still overseen by intermittent social worker visits. Apart from that she keeps to herself, a conscientious worker who passes the time at weekends with two bottles of vodka. After an elderly man takes a fall across the road on the way home she finds herself unwillingly entangled with Raymond, the IT guy from the office. He first coaxes her to visit the old man in hospital, and then invites her over to have tea with his mum. While she initially flinches from this extension to her non-existent social life she comes gradually to enjoy it. It is, however, all a sideline to the main event. She has her eye on a man. She has picked him out as suitable for her needs, is making personal preparations, researching him on the internet, and plans to arrange a meeting. As they say, the best laid plans of mice and men ... When things go wrong and the rest of Eleanor's life begins to unravel it turns out that friendship is more important than she liked to admit.
Here she orders a drink at the pub, in her own inimitable style:
"I was bored and knocked hard, three times, on the wooden bar, as though it were a front door. They both looked up. I asked for a pint of Guinness, which the boy began to pour from a tap. 'Anything else? he said. I was still stumped. I reasoned that part of his job would be to help customers in such situations.
'What would you recommend? I asked him. He looked up from watching the black liquid trickle into the glass.
'I said, what would you recommend for me? I don't drink in public houses, as a rule.'
He looked to his left and right, as if expecting someone else to be standing there. There was a long pause.
'Erm,' he said. 'Well ... Magners is very popular. With ice? Nice summer drink.'
'Right,' I said, 'thank you. In that case, I'll have a Magners drink, please, on your recommendation.' He opened a brown bottle and put it on the bar. He put some ice in a tall glass and placed it next to the bottle.
'What's that?' I said.
'And what's the empty glass for?'
'It's for the Magners,' he said.
'Am I expected to pour the drink from the bottle into the glass?' I said, puzzled. 'Isn't it your job to do that?' He stared at me and then slowly poured the brown liquid over the ice and put it down quite hard; indeed, he practically slammed the bottle onto the counter." (p.73-4)
Add a very controlling mother to the mix and you can begin to see how this tale might progress. But it seems that a little human kindness goes a long way, and learning to both give and receive it helps Eleanor through some troubling times ahead.
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