Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than…fine?
Let me start by saying I was surprised by this book. I don’t know quite what I was expecting from it, but it definitely wasn’t what it is. It probably wouldn’t have been on my radar if it hadn’t come up for review on Netgalley.
Eleanor Oliphant is, as per title, completely fine. No, really. She is. She works in an office, she has extremely limited human interaction, which she’s relatively happy with as the alternative would be mixing with people, and that would be hideous. Eleanor is…unusual. She seems to be missing a tact filter, and instead speaks as she thinks – honestly, logically, and factually, which in theory should be fine, but in real life is actually quite awkward and she can (and does!) come across as rude and a wee bit offensive. As we go deeper into Eleanor’s life, we realise that not only does she not have anyone in her life, she doesn’t really know what that would be like. Her thoughts reflect that of an incredibly lonely person, but she doesn’t really seem to understand that life doesn’t have to be that way, or realise that she is actually lonely. As previously established, she’s fine.
Early on in the book, Eleanor has a arrow through the heart moment. She comes into contact with someone who she can see herself being with, settling down with, having a ‘normal’ life with. This realisation leads to behaviour bordering on obsession, and it’s an uncomfortable read as you watch her feelings grow and develop for this wholly unsuitable individual who doesn’t even know she exists. Eleanor has a plan though, and this involves bringing her frumpy, sensible self and her velcroed shoes screaming (literally) into a plucked (well, waxed), primped and fashionably dressed contender, even if she doesn’t really understand why she has to.
Eleanor’s “Mummy” is an ever-present feature in her life, although she’s not actually there with her, Eleanor speaks to her weekly on the telephone and she always ends up devastated by the content of the conversation. Mummy is a bully. I’ll let you find out more about that as you read the book, but she is an all round horrid creature. We learn more about their relationship and why Eleanor is the way she is as we move through the story.
A series of unusual circumstances bring Eleanor together with Raymond, a colleague from IT with whom she has had minimal exchanges, but who ends up showing her a side of life she didn’t realise was there. Through counselling, and her new-found friend, Eleanor starts to understand that she can move outside of her comfort zone and nothing bad will happen. Reality starts to bite. Her past starts to make sense. She starts to experience feelings, emotions, excitement, self-awareness and confusion – all quite alien concepts to her, and slowly, but surely we watch her grow, blossom and start to realise that actually, Eleanor Olliphant really is going to be completely fine.
An unusual, well written, beautifully developed book.