*2017 novel by Gail Honeyman, originally inspired by a newspaper article on loneliness.
“The moment hung in time like a drop of honey from a spoon, heavy, golden.”…would that be Gale’s honey? (Gayle Hunnicutt, by the way, was born in Texas, where they have their own brands.)
This story is told in the first person, in a speaking style which varies between Saga Noren of The Bridge and Lynda Snell of The Archers (regular listening for our heroine). Eleanor, almost thirty as the story opens, has a degree in Classics from her Scottish university (Honeyman has a degree in French from Glasgow). “I’d won a small prize,” Eleanor tells us, “…for the best Finals performance in a paper on Virgil’s Georgics.”
Perhaps Honeyman has looked at Frédéric Boyer’s French 21st century version of the Georgics, retitled Le Souci de la terre (Care for the earth), slanted towards current ecological concerns. The original Georgics, by Virgil, is thought to have been published in 29 BCE. The subject of that poem is agriculture, slanted towards politics.
For reasons central to the plot, Eleanor has lived in her own flat since starting University. At the beginning of the story, she does not anticipate leaving either her home or the job she took on graduating, in the accounts department of a local graphic design firm.
There’s a distinct lack of living greenery in Eleanor’s surroundings, though the green motif pops up in odd places: the bright green polish she chooses at a nail bar, reminiscent of an Amazonian frog; the green of a freshly painted front door; the parrot plant she was given on a childhood birthday. She takes a bag of kale as a gift to a friend recovering in hospital.
Eleanor terms life “our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears”.
At a home she visits for the first time, with a colleague whose mother’s it is, Eleanor has some sort of emotional epiphany. In the back garden is “a vegetable patch, with tropically lush rhubarb and neat rows of carrots, leeks and cabbages.” Of the house’s tenant, Eleanor concludes that “in the nicest possible way, she didn’t really have a personality; she was a mother, a kind, loving woman…She was, quite simply, a nice lady who’d raised a family and now lived quietly with her cats and grew vegetables.” By the end of the story, Eleanor has accepted a rescue cat.
Honeyman rather teasingly has Eleanor say of choosing a new book, “The covers are of very little help, because they always say only good things, and I’ve found out to my cost that they’re rarely accurate. ‘Exhilarating’ ‘Dazzling’ ‘Hilarious’. No.”
For the record, the cover of “Eleanor Oliphant” says, ‘Funny, touching and unpredictable’.
It’s always a matter of personal taste, but this made me laugh aloud:
“I do love call centres…they ask, at the end, Is there anything else I can help you with today, Eleanor? and I can then reply, No, no thank you, you’ve completely and comprehensively resolved my problems.”
“A tiny envelope, like a hamster’s birthday card, was affixed to the cellophane.”
“They were all poets that the kind of person who’d aspire to such a home would recognise, poets who wrote about urns and flowers and wandering clouds.”
I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1804), by WILLIAM WORDSWORTH:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.