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The Costa award-winning debut novelist on the kindness of Glasgow and becoming a full-time writer in her 40s. G ail Honeyman arrives in London trailing a wheelie-case, having travelled from Glasgow on a plane that was supposed to leave at 7am, but was delayed by the freezing weather. As we take the escalator up to liberate her of the case for a photocall, we muse on the peculiarity of a —7C ground frost stranding a plane which regularly flies at air temperatures of —40C.
In ways that only those who have found themselves sucked into her award-winning debut novel will truly understand, this is an Eleanor Oliphant moment: it enfolds a stressful experience, stoically borne, in the beady intelligence of a woman who is rarely seen in public without a trolley-bag. The comparison has less to do with Honeyman herself than with the capacity of her writing to make everything seem a little bit strange, slightly dislocated from its face value.
But whereas most such narrators exert a sinister control on the perspective and plot of the novels in which they appear, Eleanor is immediately revealed as an eccentric, pratfalling her way through the early chapters, apparently oblivious to the way her foibles appear to those around her, even as she reports the bitchy conversations she has overheard.
She shores herself up with ritual The Archers on weekday evenings, two bottles of vodka at the weekend and barricades herself behind a comic formality of thought and speech, while harbouring an adolescent crush on a singer known only to her through his Twitter feed.
The character grew, Honeyman explains, out of a newspaper article she read years earlier about the problem of loneliness. She admits to having grown up in a village in central Scotland, midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but, when pressed about her background or her personal life, clams up.
There was no history of writing in the family, and she and her younger brother went to the local state school. Honeyman went on to read French language and literature at Glasgow University and then set off for a postgraduate degree at Oxford with the intention of becoming an academic, but decided in her 20s that the scholarly life was not for her.
Returning to Scotland, she settled down to backroom jobs, first as a civil servant specialising in economic development and then as an administrator at the university where she had once studied. Her colleagues shared her enthusiasm — as did seven other publishers who joined a hastily convened auction, which soared to six figures in four rounds of bidding.
On the final day, Honeyman was confined to her hotel in Carcassonne while the competing editors called her up to make their cases and find out more about the unknown writer on whom they were about to bet the corporate silver.
When results came through, late on Friday afternoon, Ashby, who had been fighting a heavy cold, was sitting in a station waiting for a train. For Honeyman it was the start of a period of editing and revising which she found she enjoyed as much as the writing itself.
By the time the novel arrived on the shelves it had already built up a head of steam, selling in 30 countries and being snapped up for a film by Reese Witherspoon within days of publication. Its word of mouth success spread throughout the autumn of — it was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime — and with perfect timing, just before the paperback was due to be released this month, it was awarded the Costa first novel prize, putting it in contention for the book of the year, which is announced on 30 January.
For Honeyman it is also a love song to Glasgow, where she has lived since she turned her back on her academic ambitions. He hardly has the makings of a romantic hero — but then this is not quite a love story.
A life in Claire Armitstead. Published on Fri 12 Jan Topics Fiction A life in Costa book awards Awards and prizes Costa book awards Publishing features Reuse this content.
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The novel focuses on year-old Eleanor Oliphant, a social misfit with a traumatic past who becomes enamoured of a singer, whom she believes she is destined to be with. It deals with themes of isolation and loneliness, and depicts Eleanor's transformation journey towards a fuller understanding of self and life. Eleanor Oliphant, the novel's protagonist and narrator, lives in Glasgow and works as a finance clerk for a graphic design company.
She is 29 at the novel's outset. She is academically intelligent, with a degree in Classics and high standards of literacy. Every day on her lunch break she completes the Daily Telegraph crossword.
She is socially awkward and leads a solitary lifestyle. She has no friends or social contacts, and every weekend consumes two bottles of vodka. She takes no interest in her appearance, not having a haircut since she was Not considering that she has a problem, Eleanor repeatedly describes herself as "absolutely fine", and even when obvious moments of awkwardness arise in her interactions with others, she tends to blame the other person's "underdeveloped social skills".
Her work colleagues regard her as a bit of a joke, and refer to her as " Wacko Jacko " or " Harry Potter "; she regards them as "shirkers and idiots".
Clues gradually emerge to a troubled past. Eleanor has a badly scarred face; knows nothing about her father; spent much of her childhood in foster care and children's homes ; and, as a student, spent two years living with an abusive boyfriend who regularly beat her. Twice yearly she receives a routine visit from a social worker to monitor her progress. Her mother now appears to be confined to an unidentified institution: she phones Eleanor for a minute conversation on Wednesday evenings.
It is clear that Eleanor's mother is both vindictive and manipulative. Several developments advance the narrative. Eleanor develops a crush on Johnnie Lomond, lead singer in a local band, having won tickets to a concert in a raffle. She becomes convinced that he is the "love of [her] life" and "husband material".
She starts to follow his Twitter feed, discovers where he lives, and visits his building. In anticipation of meeting him, she begins an unprecedented regime of personal grooming: she has a bikini wax , and later a manicure and haircut, buys new clothes, and visits a Bobbi Brown beauty store for makeup advice.
On leaving work one day with a new colleague, Raymond Gibbons, they witness an elderly man, Sammy Thom, collapse in the street.
At Raymond's insistence, they call an ambulance, and help save his life. They are subsequently drawn into a series of encounters with Sammy and his grateful family, and in the process an embryonic friendship grows between Eleanor and Raymond. Eleanor attends another long-anticipated concert by Johnnie Lomond, certain that this is the moment at which they will meet, and the pieces of her life will start to fall into place. Instead, she finds that she is hidden in the crowd, and that Johnnie is unaware of her presence.
When, to fill a gap in the performance, he moons the audience, she realises that he is not the refined soul-mate she had imagined. A dry ice stage effect stirs disturbing recollections of a traumatic fire in her past. She returns to her flat in despair, retreating into an intense three-day drinking binge and assembling materials for a suicide attempt — a hoard of painkillers ; a bread knife ; and a bottle of drain cleaner.
Eleanor is saved by Raymond, sent by their boss to investigate her absence from work. He cleans her up, puts her on the road to recovery, and continues to visit regularly over the following days. He even brings her an abandoned cat for company, which Eleanor appreciates.
At his urging, she visits her GP , who refers her to a mental health counsellor. She eventually returns to work, where she is warmly greeted. Gradually, with the help of both the counsellor and Raymond, her full childhood story emerges, including details that she had suppressed. When she was 10, her mother had started a house fire with the intention of killing both Eleanor and her four-year-old sister, Marianne. Although Eleanor survived, her mother and Marianne died. The weekly phone conversations with her mother have been entirely in Eleanor's imagination.
The novel deals with theme of loneliness, prejudices, trauma recovery, small acts of kindness, and friendships. Humour is used to lighten and contrast with the darker themes. The novel has been praised by critics. Jenny Colgan , reviewing it for The Guardian , described it as "a narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness" with a "wonderful, joyful" ultimate message.
The novel received the Costa Debut Novel Award. Narrator McCarron gives an award-worthy performance: her Eleanor is by turns comical in her obliviousness to basic things and utterly heartbreaking in discussing her past. Her narration is nuanced, conveying both Eleanor's surface facade of "everything's fine" and all the subtle layers of repressed pain and trauma underneath.
It's a performance that will stay in listeners' minds long after the story is over. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August Retrieved 14 May — via www. The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 August The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 May Why Eleanor Oliphant is so right for now". The Scotsman. BBC News Online. Retrieved 22 August The British Book Awards. Retrieved 20 January Audio Publishers Association.
AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 19 May Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 16 February Categories : British novels Novels set in Glasgow Novels about alcoholism Burn survivors in fiction debut novels.
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