This is my RL's book club selection for August, and seeing as how I skipped the last two (one of which I genuinely forgot about), I felt obliged to give this a chance. Luckily a friend and fellow BC member loaned me her copy.
I actually DNFd it at the end of chapter 2. Put it down and actually said out loud, 'no, I'm not reading this crap'. Scenarios of possible book club meeting outcomes played through my head and my inner voice said 'you really haven't read enough to justify your ire'. So, I made myself pick it up again.
Is this a compelling story? Yes, it absolutely is. I tore through the book in one sitting yesterday. There's a lot of talent in the writing and the telling.
There were just two problems for me: 1. I just didn't like a lot of it. This is subjective, of course; the story just isn't my thing. 2. The story was fundamentally flawed because there were a number of basic inconsistencies to Eleanor's character. These inconsistencies aren't subjective and can't be explained away by story events, even though the story events are horrific enough to allow for plenty of inconsistent behaviour.
Eleanor is, from the beginning, framed as a super-rational, automaton-like woman with a very expansive vocabulary, a formality of speech that approaches legalese, a scrupulously balanced diet, and a perfectly timed, strictly adhered to routine. She hoards prescription pain meds, and goes through 2 full bottles of vodka every weekend. Fine so far in terms of consistency.
But then she meets Raymond, who smokes, and she wastes no time telling him in detail why smoking is vile and unhealthy; when he comments on her knowledge, she tells him its because she considered taking up smoking but as she always researches everything before trying anything, she discarded the idea. Now, if she researches everything, and discarded smoking because it's detrimental to health, then a personality such as Elenor's would also research alcohol and likewise refrain from systematically drinking 2 large bottles every weekend.
I understand cracks in the facade, but really, Eleanor is so rigid at the start you question whether she's on the autistic spectrum; it implies a level of personal discipline that doesn't allow for vodka flavoured cracks.
Eleanor's past is a dark and pretty horrific one (Trigger warnings for physical and emotional abuse), but she wasn't raised in isolation. In fact she's in the foster system from the age of 10, so it's stretching the bounds of incredulity when she visits a McDonalds for the first time and describes a filet o' fish sandwich as though she were an alien visitor to this planet, saying it was her very first visit to a fast food establishment and how she finds fast food repellent and unhealthy. Hard to believe when you've spent 7 years in a Foster care system that you've never experienced fast food, but, ok. Where the real inconsistency lies is when she goes home and has spaghetti hoops for dinner, which I'm assuming are the British version of spaghetti-o's, a particularly vile nutritional wasteland in a can.
At one point later on, she comments on someone wearing jeans and jean jacket, saying she never knew you could turn denim in to a suit. A small thing I'd not have noticed, except I was already inclined to rack up inconsistencies. She grew up in London and she's now living in a large Scottish city and she finds someone wearing jeans and a jean jacket odd? I'd have said on any random night in any metropolitan city, a denim ensemble would be amongst the least of the outstanding sartorial choices. There's no way you walk through a major city for 7 years and find jeans and denim jacket weird.
At the end - and this is purely an outright editing error - there are two news articles dated about 6 weeks apart. The first one says something along the lines of "the victim, aged 10, cannot be named because of privacy laws" (she said it better, but I don't have the book at hand). The very next article proceeds to name her - first and last name - multiple times. Guess that underage privacy law was repealed in those 6 weeks.
There's a massive plot twist (this is a HUGE spoiler - you've been warned):
Sixth-sense style, which I caught early on and had confirmed halfway through when someone asked Eleanor where her mother was and she said "I don't know".
So it's a compelling story, but a very inconsistent one. A book that relies as heavily as this one does on emotional extremes deserved to have had a much more pedantic editor, as befits a pedantic character. Eleanor had a horrific childhood and is broken in more than a few places, but she lived in the world; participated in it, yet we're presented with a character who might as well be a newly arrived visitor to planet Earth. Even though I liked Eleanor, and found her funny, and agreed with her views on text-speak, I just couldn't buy into her reality. Like Eleanor, I value consistency, and this story just wasn't.
Your mileage may vary.