I’m sure there will be people who don’t enjoy Eleanor Flood, the latest figment of tell-it-like-it-is author Maria Semple’s at times seemingly hyperactive imagination. But those people are probably boring and judgmental and not the types you should ever invite to a dinner party. In a novel that unfolds over the course of a single eventful day, Eleanor vows that today will be different. “Today I will radiate calm,” the novel opens. “Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being.” Of course, it’s not easy to be your best self when you’re a little neurotic, a lot self-centred and hanging onto your sanity by a thread. Hilarity ensues as Eleanor bumbles through her day, breaking or damaging almost everything she touches (from hearts to celebrated pieces of art). But every time the novel edges into slapstick territory, Semple – she of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? super-fame – reveals a new piece of Eleanor’s tortured past. Uniquely, this story is told in small part through drawings: Eleanor is a formerly renowned animator who has hidden her most beautiful and poignant piece of work from the world, and this artwork is featured in the book. Outside of the gentle beauty of the art, it can all be a bit much at times. Joe, Eleanor’s reliable hand-surgeon-to-the-stars husband, is harbouring a secret that causes the story to jump the shark. But really, why not? There are times when truth is stranger than fiction, and other times when fiction is charmingly strange.
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