I first noticed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman on NPR’s Best Books of 2017 list. I remembered the blurb said something about a quirky loner who begins to come out of her shell when she meets Raymond, the new IT guy at her work. It sounded like a fun, romantic story that I would enjoy. After waiting eons for the book to become available at the library, I was finally able to read it. And I was right, I very much enjoyed this novel. However, it was also much darker than I was expecting. Eleanor has some pretty tragic demons haunting her that made her life far from normal. She is not just a quirky loner waiting to meet the right quirky loner. A good book, but not exactly what I was expecting.
Eleanor Oliphant is initially both cringeworthy and likable. On the one hand, she is entirely unsociable and willing to dislike everyone around her. Her life is very structured and inflexible; it revolves around work, and drinking when she is not at work. Eleanor also has rigid and unreasonable expectations of what she wants and how other people should act. On the other hand, you immediately feel some sympathy for her when you see some of the casual cruelty visited upon her by her work colleagues.
Eleanor develops slowly throughout the book as she becomes more open to new experiences and the people around her. The catalyst for all this change is when Eleanor and Raymond, the new IT guy at work happen to be close by when an elderly man collapses in the street. Raymond may be a scruffy, laid-back, smoker, but he is also an empathetic, friendly, and genuine person. With neither side interested in romance, Eleanor very slowly makes her first friend. And it makes a huge difference in her life.
While Eleanor is expanding her life, the reader slowly gets to know more about Eleanor’s past. In many ways, Eleanor has been living in denial, and she does not remember or understand things that have happened. It is remarkable that Eleanor was able to live as normal a life as she did. But Eleanor also isn’t alone anymore, and with the help of Raymond, she is able to face her tragic childhood and move past it.
As I said above, I really liked this book, despite the unexpected darkness. The characters were well-written and their slow movement toward friendship and more felt earned. Sure, Eleanor did change so drastically, so quickly that it felt a little bit like a fairy tale, but I like the idea that friendship and community can make so much of a difference in someone’s life.
The one thing that I couldn’t buy was how quickly Eleanor jumped on the Twitter bandwagon with no problems or confusion. This was coming from the woman who had a hard time buying a computer and getting internet at her house. Very minor but something I noticed.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.