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An audience with Gail Honeyman @ Kingston Univeristy

The author of the runaway success Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gave an audience at Kingston University on Wednesday 24th October and it was lovely.

Ostensibly this is a book about loneliness, so how has it become a genre defining novel in the category of ‘up-lit’? Part of the answer to this question must lie in the charm of its author (and the fact that the book isn’t actually about loneliness so much as it is about building connection).

Gail came down from her home in Glasgow to address students and staff of Kingston University as well as members of the public. The members of the university community had each received a copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine before the start of term as part of the Big Read initiative. The Big Read is the brain child of Alison Baverstock, a lecturer at the university and long-time proponent of the value of reading.

It was clear immediately that Gail shared many of Alison’s values, launching the discussion of her book by explaining that in her mind reading is a way of forming connections and of feeling connected. I am inclined to agree with them, reading is an escape from the day to day which works at a fundamental level. However, I also see reading as a way of expanding your capacity for empathy. If you are able to read, and interested in reading, about other people’s lives and experiences, even if these are fictional, demonstrates an understanding of your fellow man which is hard to achieve through other methods. Eleanor Oliphant is a particularly good example of this in action. From a strange, fairly unlikeable woman to the heroine of the story the journey which Eleanor goes on within the pages of the novel remind each of us that is we are kind and understanding we can make a person’s life more bearable.

As an author Gail spoke extensively about the process of writing and her great fortune in her publishing story. She is reserved and humble and seemed genuinely thankful and amazed by the reception of Eleanor. She worked full time throughout the writing process and had little ambition or expectation regarding publication. So when an agent, a judge for a competition she entered but did not win, approached her offering to take the manuscript to publishers she was thrilled. She describes the disbelief that an auction ensued. After her agent sent the manuscripts to publishing houses Gail promptly went on holiday. She describes how surreal the experience of people wanting to buy her book was and has taken everything in her stride so far.

I am excited to see what else Gail writes and also to see what Rees Witherspoon has planned for the film adaptation.


[once I have actually written them I will attach links to my posts ‘What is Up-Lit?’ and Review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine]

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