Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

★★★★★ (5/5)

It’s true, though. I do exist, don’t I? It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock.

Very rarely does one come across a story with such intensely rich characterization, which does not border on the tedious and continues to pique the reader’s interest. Eleanor Oliphant is one such character who has been breathed life into with vivid traits and oddities. The gradual unraveling of a deep-seated mystery, the world seen through eyes of a remarkable but troubled woman, inherent goodness of strangers – all make Eleanor’s world engrossing and brilliant. With occasional shades of sputtering humor and sadness, this story, its characters, indeed every little detail make it a remarkable read.

As a logophile, Eleanor’s delightful fondness for doing crossword puzzles and using heavy words in everyday conversations added much to my vocabulary bank. Finding meanings of alien words and re-reading those sentences made the entire experience of reading so much more varied and dense. I’m thrilled about slipping words like “stygian”, “histrionic” and “badinage” in a casual conversation.

Beautiful New Words

  • Unguents: ointment or lubrication
  • Libation: a drink poured out as an offering to a deity
  • Serviettes: a table napkin
  • Chiropody: treatment of the feet and their ailments
  • Demijohns: a bulbous narrow-necked bottle
  • Proselytizing: to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another
  • Yokel: an uneducated and unsophisticated person
  • Zetabetical:in reverse alphabetical order
  • Harridan: a strict, bossy, or belligerent old woman
  • Bacchanalia: Roman festival of Bacchus
  • Dionysian: relating to the sensual, spontaneous, and emotional aspects of human nature
  • Doddery: slow and unsteady in movement
  • Garish: bright and showy
  • Soigné: dressed very elegantly
  • Ministrations: provision of assistance or care
  • Quotidian: occurring every day
  • Tinnitus: ringing or buzzing in the ears
  • Febrile: feverish; great deal of nervous excitement or energy
  • Micturate: urinate
  • De Rigueur: according to strict etiquette
  • Vertiginous: extremely steep
  • Stygian: pitch black
  • Loutish: uncouth and aggressive
  • Malodorous: smelling very unpleasant
  • Sybarite: a person who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury
  • Badinage: humorous or witty conversation
  • Dipsomaniac: a drunkard or alcoholic
  • Prurience: when someone pays too much attention to sex
  • Ambulant: able to walk about
  • Rhotic: relating to or denoting a dialect or variety of English
  • Savoir-faire: the ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations
  • Histrionic: excessively theatrical or dramatic
  • Elocution: the skill of clear and expressive speech
  • Iconoclast: a person who attacks or criticizes cherished beliefs or institutions
  • Weltschmerz: a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness
  • Anathema: something or someone that one vehemently dislikes
  • Recondite: little known

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

Wise Gems

  • I feel sorry for beautiful people. Beauty, from the moment you possess it, is already slipping away, ephemeral.
  • It never ceases to amaze me, the things they find interesting, amusing or unusual. I can only assume they’ve led very sheltered lives.
  • 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. You can’t protect other people, however hard you try. You try, and you fail, and your world collapses around you, burns down to ashes.
  • I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.
  • Apparently, talking was good; it helped to keep anxieties in perspective.
  • Time only blunts the pain of loss. It doesn’t erase it.
  • I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo. It was safer that way. Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.
  • There must be some piece of wiring left over in our brains, from our ancestors, something that means we can’t help but stare into a fire, watch it move and dance, warding off evil spirits and dangerous animals . . . that’s what fire’s supposed to do, isn’t it?
  • 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.
  • I’d tried to cope alone for far too long, and it hadn’t done me any good at all. Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.

The World Through Eleanor’s Eyes

  • We didn’t have a television; Mummy called it the cathode carcinogen, cancer for the intellect.
  • I thought about all those paintings: voluptuous maidens reclining in curvaceous splendor, waiflike ballerinas with huge limpid eyes, drowned beauties in clinging white gowns surrounded by floating blossoms.
  • I would never have suspected that small deeds could elicit such genuine, generous responses. I felt a little glow inside—not a blaze, more like a small, steady candle.
  • The flaw in my plan, the hamartia, was this: there were no tickets available. The man at the box office actually laughed at me.
  • It was a very pleasant feeling, to have someone incur expenditure on my behalf, voluntarily, expecting nothing in return.
  • My foster carers received an allowance for looking after me, and I was always conscious of making sure not to cause them to exceed it by needing things. And especially not by wanting things.
  • “Raymond,” I said, “it’s really not that unusual a story. Plenty of people grow up in far, far more challenging circumstances; it’s simply a fact of life.” “Doesn’t make it right, though,” he said.
  • It turned out that if you saw the same person with some degree of regularity, then the conversation was immediately pleasant and comfortable—you could pick up where you left off, as it were, rather than having to start afresh each time.
  • I hadn’t thought about it before, but I suppose I’d never really been angry before now. Irritated, bored, sad, yes, but not actually angry.
  • I stood before the door, thinking that I ought to get one of those spy holes installed, so that I would know who was there before I unlocked it. I found the trite theatricality of it rather dull. Who’s behind the door? Boring. I don’t like pantomimes or whodunnits—I like to have all the relevant information at my disposal at the earliest opportunity, so that I can start to formulate my response.
  • I mean, what if I passed it on, the Mummy thing? Even if I don’t have it, it could skip a generation, couldn’t it? Or . . . or what if it’s the act of giving birth that brings it out in a person? It could be lying dormant all this time, waiting . . .

Lines That Made Me Laugh

  • “They were all right, I guess,” he said, shrugging. Such insight, such clear, descriptive prose.
  • In every walk of life, I encounter people with underdeveloped social skills with alarming frequency. Why is it that client-facing jobs hold such allure for misanthropes?
  • Too late, I remembered the unfinished remains of the egg sandwich which lay within—she gagged ostentatiously as she removed my purse. A slight overreaction, I felt—yes, the odor which escaped was somewhat sulfurous, but still, no need for pantomime.
  • Moments later, I received a response: Twenty-first-century communication. I fear for our nation’s standards of literacy.
  • I put my hands to my ears, unable to believe what I was hearing. Without exaggeration, it could only be described as the cacophonous din of hell. What on earth was wrong with these people? The “singer” alternated between screaming and growling.

Beautifully Constructed Sentences

  • There: soft fingers on vibrating steel, and a chord shimmered into the air, nebulous and milky, like light from an old, old star. A voice: warm and low and gentle, a voice to cast spells, charm snakes, shape the course of dreams.
  • I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.
  • I was on my fourth vodka by now, and the funeral service was there in my mind, but it didn’t hurt—like noticing you had a stone in your shoe, but while you were sitting down rather than walking on it.
  • The light was opaque, rendering the world in gray and black, a bleak absence of tone that weighed heavily on me.
  • In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.

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