Some inconsistencies in ‘Eleanor Oliphant’

eloli

SPOILER ALERT:  In what follows we consider some inconsistencies in the plot of Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which of course gives the plot away…

Work

At the beginning of the book, we are informed that EO works in a graphic design agency whose owner Bob took her on while she was bearing signs of a beating on the presumed grounds that she would be cheap.  So this seems to be a pretty hole-and-corner affair.  But later on when EO has been on sick leave Bob has to follow HR procedures in filling in forms and a phased return to work, which sounds like a rather large organisation.  Also after her promotion to office manager EO describes herself as a section head, one of the Praetorian Guard reporting to Bob.

EO’s colleagues also seem to have undergone the same kind of process of melioration.  At the beginning they make fun of her because she is different, while at the end they react like the typical kind of concerned colleagues.

The workplace also has a staffroom, which seems strange for a design agency…we will pass over Sammy Thom saying I don’t know anything about graphic design when nobody has in fact mentioned it…

An extra-literary explanation would be that the author Gail Honeyman was just reverting to the kind of public sector background she was familiar with.  We will come on to literary explanations later…

Eleanor and health issues

EO tells us that she drinks two [litre] bottles of vodka every weekend.  I doubt that a woman of normal weights (she tells us) could do that for nine years and go on living, never mind go to the office on Monday morning.  But I could be wrong!

She also tells us that she cannot sing because of the effects of smoke inhalation, but later on she and Raymond sing at Sammy Thom’s funeral.  People turn round and look at them of course…

With regard to mental health, we are clearly in the realm of fantasy, especially regarding auditory hallucinations that can be dismissed at will…

Eleanor and housekeeping

On page 83 as part of her normal routine Eleanor cleans the bathroom, washes the kitchen floor and takes out the recycling, all of which sounds quite efficient.  Then on page 313 as part of her recovery she fills four black bags with rubbish.

Where does Raymond’s mother live?

On the one hand, it’s a neat terrace.  On the other hand, when Raymond and Eleanor visit they go round to the back door, which is difficult even in an end terrace…

What does Eleanor know?

Although she seems to watch a lot of TV, Top Gear is a mystery to her.  Similarly, while she seems to know at least some classics of English literature, Arnold Bennett is as well.

That leads on to her education, where the questions are more wide-ranging.  Ignoring the point that nobody is likely to allow a child with suspicious bruising to be home-schooled, the question arises of how she got to do a degree in Classics.  If an Latin A-Level was required, that implies a rather posh type of school, while if she studied Latin and Greek ab initio that still leaves the question of where the specific interest came from.

So what does all this mean?

The book starts of seeming to be about loneliness as a widespread social ill and ends up by blaming it all on the evil fantasist Sharon Smyth (pictured) 29 who has quite literally scarred EO for life.  So is she supposed to represent loneliness or the causes and consequences of loneliness, which might be unrealistic expectations, inappropriate behaviour, a feeling that one has to be superior to one’s surroundings or that Life is Elsewhere?

An alternative explanation would be that these inconsistencies show that Eleanor is really just having a fantasy about escaping from her misery but it doesn’t quite hold together.  I doubt they are systematic enough for that, though it might explain why Raymond’s mother is specifically described as having no character–Eleanor’s imagination can’t extend far enough to create one for her…

 

Advertisements

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: