Author: Jason Gurley
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: 25th January 2016
Rating: 4/5 stars
1962, Anchor Bend, Oregon
The sea calls to Eleanor. Like the turn of the waves it beckons her from the heart of the two she’s always known, from her husband Hob and their young daughter, Agnes, to the unfathomable depths of the ocean.
Agnes’s daughter Eleanor is six years old. She shares her name with the grandmother she never knew and everything else with her identical twin, Esmerelda. But to Agnes, only Eleanor is a constant reminder of the past.
After a dark event leaves her family in tatters, Eleanor, now fourteen, is left caring for her alcoholic mother, whose grief has torn her apart. But when Eleanor’s reality begins to unravel, she starts to lose her grip on time itself, slipping from the present into strange other lands where she’s in danger of losing herself altogether.
Eleanor is the story of choices that ripple through time far beyond the moment they’re made. And what happens when, just sometimes, bonds are so powerful they reach beyond this world and into another…
Hauntingly beautiful, Eleanor by Jason Gurley examines the strained relationships within families, and highlights how a single moment in time can have vast repercussions.
In the prologue, we are introduced to an Eleanor, a young mother in the midst of a nervous breakdown, who wanders into the ocean and disappears. Years later, her daughter, Agnes, has twin girls whom she names Esmerelda and Eleanor. While the original Eleanor and her legacy lurk in the background, it is her namesake who is the novel’s main protagonist.
Eleanor is on a quest to heal her very broken family, after a devastating accident changes them all. As a young teenager, she is picking up the pieces of her alcoholic mother for whom she is a horrific reminder of the past.
Then, suddenly, Eleanor begins to disappear. She walks through a doorway and finds herself in another world. It happens again and again, until she is ripped out of time itself. A lot of this occurs in a dreamscape, a setting I generally dislike. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Gurley’s interpretation of the dreamscape as a sort of purgatory.
There are a number of voices through which the story is told. Aside from Eleanor herself, the most intriguing is Mea, a disembodied voice living in the dreamscape, who watches and obsesses over Eleanor. Her identity is revealed at the end, though most readers will find this twist predictable.
Failure is an overarching theme in the novel. It is particularly evident when we judge the parents of each generation for what they did and didn’t do. The beautiful recurring motif of cliff diving, and the associated sense of falling, was a brilliant way of expressing the fear and consequences of failure, as well as providing gorgeous scenic descriptions.