I didn’t know it was possible for a book to be touching, tragic, funny and extremely intelligent at the same time until I read EOICF. Gail Honeyman is a magician with the ability to make you laugh out loud and choke up with a lump in your throat, sometimes in the span of a single page.
Eleanor Oliphant is a creature of her routine. She gets up the same time everyday, wears identical clothes, carries the same bag to go to work at the same time. She eats the same lunch at work and solves the same newspaper’s cryptic crossword everyday while talking to absolutely noone beyond functionally needed. She goes home to cook the same dinner, watch the same show on TV and goes to bed after the same drink. Her weekends are tough because of the lack of a work routine to follow, but she passes it in a haze of alcohol and often finds that she hasn’t uttered a word between the bus rides on Friday evening and Monday morning.
On the surface, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Her silence and lack of social life might come across as weird to her co-workers, but she lives a quiet and content life, with a rather entertaining commentary on the world running inside her head.
That is, until, she lays her eyes on a singer performing at a charity concert one day and decides that he will be the love of her life.
The pursuit of her unilaterally decided soulmate takes Eleanor off her routine and forces her to try “new” things like going to any place besides her work, home, and neighbourhood superstore. And before she knows it, she is surrounded by acquaintances (and, God forbid, even friends!) she does not know how to deal with.
It is hard to talk about the story without revealing too much. Suffice to say that, as Eleanor tries the unbeaten path life opens up for her, she discovers more each day about the world and about herself. Like: What got her here? Why does she not have friends? Why is the singular phone call she receives each week from her mother, the same time every week? And why does she find even this much contact with her mother too much to bear? Where is the rest of her family? Why does she spend any free time she has numbing her senses with vodka? And will she really find the love of her life at the end of this road?
The book sucks you into the world of Eleanor and if, like me, you spend nights and days at a stretch consumed with it, Eleanor’s inner monologues will make their way into your dreams as well. You might, like me, also see the suspense coming from a mile away, but it does not take away from accompanying Eleanor on her journey to finding it out for herself. Her buried memories, the traumas of her past, are unlike anything most of us have experienced, but living inside her head through this book, you might find that it is not that different from the environs of the inside of your own head after all.
If there is one advice I’d wished I’d got before reading this book, it would be to carry a dictionary. A visit inside the head of a cryptic crossword champ is bound to throw up several new words a chapter. Word power made seriously easy.