I rarely re-read books.
The exceptions are
… because I love her with my whole heart.
… because The SantaLand Diaries is pretty close to perfect writing.
… because I read this book as a young teenager and it cast a spell on me that appears to be unbreakable.
And now I can add
to my list.
I read it when it came out in 2017 and a member of my book club chose it for our December 2018 read. The second time through I was able to savor it, letting the prose weave through my thoughts, finding new nooks and crannies to settle in.
Eleanor Oliphant gives new meaning to the term “socially awkward.” She’s a mulligan stew of hilarity, practicality, and heartbreak … and so much more.
I love the story, but it’s on my list to re-read because of a couple of things the author, Gail Honeyman, does really well.
The first thing is backstory. I won’t give anything away, but Eleanor has a secret. Honeyman dribbles just the right amount of information the reader needs at just the right time. ‘Nuff said about that, lest I spoil it. You’ll see when you read it.
But the second thing the author does is much more difficult. And that is capturing Eleanor’s voice.
Talking about voice in writing can be nebulous. Like art or pornography, you can’t define it precisely, but you know it when you see it.
Voice has different levels and different meanings.
First, there’s the writer’s voice. The writing of Ernest Hemingway doesn’t sound anything like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Janet Evanovich doesn’t sound anything like John Grisham. Dr Seuss doesn’t sound anything like Emily Dickinson.
Each author chooses certain words and rhythms to their writings. I bet you can search the depth and breadth of Fitzgerald’s works and never find him describing anyone as a “mulligan stew.” Nor will I ever write anything resembling, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I use a lot of sentence fragments when I write, anathema to some. Hemingway rarely varies his sentence pattern, anathema to me. But that’s an entirely different blog post. Fight me later.
Second, there’s the actual voice of the character. Some people have foreign or regional accents. Some drop the G at the end of a word. Some speak fast, some s l o w. Some have a squeaky soprano, some a basso profundo. Eleanor Oliphant is Scottish and that creeps in every so often. The first time I heard The SantaLand Diaries was on NPR, read by the author, David Sedaris. He has a very distinctive voice and I haven’t read anything of his since without hearing his words in his voice.
Then, the heart of a character, who they are. And that is shown by everything they say, how they say it, what they don’t say.
This is the voice that Gail Honeyman excels at with Eleanor Oliphant.
It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Eleanor, does it? While it might be infuriating to hang out with her as a real person, I love spending time with fictional Eleanor.
I could listen to her voice for hours.
What are some other voices that have stuck with you over the years?