Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

TescoFriday night is Eleanor Oliphant’s favorite night of the week. She  takes the bus home from her low-paying office job in a Glasgow ad agency, buys a Tesco pizza and two bottles of Vodka and then settles in at her apartment for a long weekend of public television, nature documentaries, and mental fuzziness.

And Eleanor is fine with that. Really fine. Really, she is.

“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.”

Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue.2016-05-24-1464091272-8813709-bookbinderrockstar

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what l’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk on stage, I just knew…here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as “husband material”.

I listened to the audible.com version of this book and enjoyed it immensely. Cathleen McCarron’s narration spooned the words and voice of author Gail Honeyman’s character. Hearing Honeyman’s words in McCarron’s voice I felt I knew Eleanor, even as she said once again exactly what she thought, leaving her colleagues speechless or collapsing in laughter,

Once Eleanor spies Johnnie Lomond she embarks on a no-holds barred makeover attempt. New haircut, new wardrobe, adding some make-up, and making a new friend: Raymond, from the ad company’s IT department. She found — to her surprise — these small changes reaped some rewards that she actually enjoyed.

“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. . . . Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”

When Raymond and Eleanor encounter an older gentlemen in medical distress after one of their lunches, Raymond begins introducing Eleanor to lunches outside the office. Parties. Tea with his own mother. The internet becomes Eleanor’s tool to spy on Johnnie Lomond, read his tweets (hilariously narcissistic), see his Instagram posts all while plotting the first meeting that will lead inevitably to the couple’s long-term wedded bliss. It doesn’t, of course, work out that way which leads to Eleanor’s finding out she’s in fact not fine, not fine at all. Which is exactly when things become really interesting.

Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.Oliphant

 

So deserving.

Your book club will adore it.

MENU

Eleanor’s preferred weekend meals are Tesco frozen pizzas and vodka. She prepares pesto pasta for dinner each night because it tastes good, it’s easy and it fulfills her nutritional requirements. At the pub she frequents with Raymond she becomes enamored of frothy coffee and cheese scones. She orders “Magner’s” frequently when she becomes more a part of social events, at the suggestion of a bartender. I’d never heard of Magner’s but it is an Irish hard cider. It looks to be available in the US so I would serve Magner’s with cheese scones.

Here’s a recipe for classic British cheese scones: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-classic-british-cheese-scone-recipe-434867

I would also serve pizza. One of my favorite things to do with pizza is to buy pre-made pizza crusts, then place an array of toppings out for people to make their own favorite. Pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh basil, shrimp, parmesan, artichokes, spinach, baked chicken, a jar of roasted red peppers. Your guests get to have exactly what they like and have fun making them together.

MUSIC

Definitely some Scottish bands. The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Big Country.

The standard which our Johnnie Lomond will never meet. Alas.

MOVIE CASTING

Dear Reese: I really hope you don’t transfer this story to Rupert Grintthe U.S. The Glaswegian character of the novel should be preserved.

That being said, please cast British actors! My suggestions:

Eleanor: Sophie McShera, a Scottish

Sophie_McShera_May_2014_(cropped)actress, and fan favorite Daisy from Downton Abbey

Raymond: Rupert Grint, our man Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame

Happy Reading!

 

 

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Tangerine, by Christine Mangan

Tangier Matisse

View of the Bay of Tangier 1912, Henri Matisse

“You cry when you arrive, and you cry when you leave.” It’s an adage shared with Lucy Mason, one of two, alternating female narrators of Tangerine, Christine Mangan’s debut novel, as she departs the spellbinding Moroccan city of Tangier by boat. Lucy feels she has become like a “tangerine,” the term for natives.

Lucy spent every dime she had for passage to Tangier, compelled to re-establish contact with her Bennington College roommate, Alice Shipley. It’s been a year since the two separated, two years since Alice began dating a college boy, interrupting the “cloud of domestic bliss” between Alice and Lucy. Despite Alice’s move from Vermont to Morocco, Lucy finds her and appears unannounced, uninvited, and perhaps unwanted, on Alice’s doorstep.

Matisse door

The Kasbah Door by Henri Matisse

“We stood together n the front hall, and I remembered, in the space of our silence, the last words I had spoken to her that night. I had told her . . . no, I had shouted — the first time I could ever remember raising my voice to her — something awful, something wretched, something about wishing she would disappear, wishing I would never see her again. And then I remembered what had happened afterward, what I had thought, what I had said — though not to her, not to Lucy, who had disappeared long before I regained consciousness.

“I felt my cheeks go warm, felt her eyes watching me — certain in that moment, that she knew precisely what I was thinking about.”

 

Yet, the two seem to have much in common: orphaned at young ages, feeling an outsider (Lucy due to her scholarship-needed background, Alice who suffered when her parents died — “beyond normal grieving” — so that her guardian considered institutionalization). When Lucy entices Alice on an overnight trip away from her husband John McAllister, it seems Alice may agree to run away with Lucy.

She had convinced me I must leave Tangier, that we must leave Tangier. In secret, under cover of night, because she also knew about the money, about the allowanced passed from Maude to me and on to John, knew about what he would really lose with my absence, and I did not question how, knowing only that she must, in that way that she always knew everything. It had all made a perfect sort of sense, and so I nodded and agreed. Tangier was not mine, I had never laid claim to it, not it to me.

An exotic locale, a one-sided relationship, classmates at Bennington College. If this is sounding to you like The Talented Mr. Ripley (a classic! https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/the-talented-mr-ripley/) meets The Secret History, you are not alone. Joyce Carol Oates offered this publicity quote for the novel’s dustcover: “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.” Jennifer Reese, reviewing for the New York Times, adds: “It’s as if Mangan couldn’t decide whether to write a homage to Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or a sun-drenched novel of dissolute Westerners abroad in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, so she tried to do both. She mostly succeeds.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/books/review/tangerine-christine-mangan.html

tangerineThis novel is quick. Tense. Exhilarating. You find yourself guessing and second-guessing, wanting to shout advice like I always do in those teenage-slasher movies. “Don’t GO IN THERE!”

George Clooney optioned the novel to film, and word is that Scarlett Johansson has been signed to star. What I am not sure of is which role. Lucyis described as dark-haired and beautiful, Alice blond and British-patrician. I’m guessing Lucy.

It’s a hot choice for your bookclub’s summer read.

MENUtangerine fruit

Hot mint tea is mentioned multiple times and according to Epicurious.com, you can hardly walk in the casbah without tripping over mint tea offerings. There’s mention of  some gin drink and also some creation of Alice’s own involving grenadine.

I would definitely serve a tagine — and it’s always fun to have an excuse to buy a new piece of kitchen equipment. Here’s a link with a variety of recipes: https://www.yummly.com/recipes/moroccan-beef-tagine

Hummus and pita chips, fresh sliced cucumber and tomatoes.

For dessert, a tangerine cake. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/17667/tangerine-orange-cake/

MUSIC

Jazz clubs serve as backdrop for a couple of key scenes. I would find some great 1950s jazz station and let it roll all night.

HAPPY READING!