Eleanor. Book Review

elELEANOR by Jason Gurley
HarperVoyager, h/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.

Oregon, 1962. In her home town of Anchor Bend, Eleanor watches the rain from the nook her husband made her – the one thing he did for her that truly suited its purpose. Sunday afternoons are hers, her own. She turns away from the sounds of her husband and child as they patter about making cinnamon toast, wishing she were out there in the storm instead.

Eleanor is not free. Not from her family and its past. Not from herself. Not even free to take her Sunday ocean swim by herself. It is what she needs. To dive from the cliff top. To feel those brief moments when she falls away from the world to her crisp ocean haven.

Hob waits for her. She dives. Surfaces. Waves. Swims back out of sight to the cliff path to climb and dive again. But as the minutes tick by and Hob watches that crucial point where the top of the cliff meets the skyline, it remains empty.

Eleanor explores the idea of returning to a critical moment in life when everything changed. Which moment to return to? Which one is truly the beginning of where things went wrong? And given the choice, would you go back in the hope of changing things? Would you honestly choose to re-live parts of a life already lived?

Eleanor’s tale is continued by a younger Eleanor, and Eleanor’s family become the suffering narrators of this tale of grief and of life lived with it. Her daughter and son-in-law and her grandchildren, among others, draw the reader through the present and the history of this tragic-stricken family as Eleanor first tries to understand and explain what is happening to her, and then thinks about going back to a moment that could erase the worst of it.

Gurley writes pain, grief and regret so openly and realistically that every turn of the page is at once reluctant yet entirely necessary. It would be almost impossible to walk away from this haunting story before reaching the end. There is a terrible beauty and pleasant manner in the way this sad narrative is written, and it is an excellent exploration of how tragic events, and the depression and grief attached to them, can affect us and those around us.