Author: Gail Honeyman
If you’re looking for the humorous pragmatism of A Man Called Ove mixed with the heartfelt bumbling relationships of The Rosie Project, Eleanor Oliphant is exactly that. Eleanor requires very little from life: a job with minimal coworker interactions, a weekend indulgence of vodka and frozen pizza, and a Tesco loyalty card. Her weekly phone calls with her mother are trying, but unavoidable. She doesn’t care to understand why society at large deigns to engage in idle chit-chat, much less participate herself.
That is, until she meets him. Well, there are two “hims.” The first is Raymond, an IT worker in her office whom she lumps in with the rest of the “pedestrial dullards.” The second – The Musician (capitalized by me for dramatic effect). He’s a perfect gentleman with a perfect singing voice and will make a perfectly perfect life partner. Or so Eleanor assumes. Of the two aforementioned individuals, she’s only actually met the first.
Compounding her problems, Raymond becomes increasingly persistent about being more than a fleeting presence in Eleanor’s life. It starts when they rescue an old man who has collapsed on the sidewalk, and Raymond begins coaxing her into such superfluous activities as visiting Sammy in the hospital. From there it progresses to such astonishing levels as having lunch during the week and instant messaging with a galling amount of improper grammar. Eleanor is determined that nothing will deter her from meeting The Musician, though, because Raymond is hardly a suitable life partner. After all, the man may not even own a proper pair of dress shoes.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has an offbeat sense of humor that I very much enjoyed. She has little time or patience for impractical societal conventions, and her inner bafflement is extraordinarily fun to read. Early on, we witness Eleanor’s frustration with an office engagement celebration, the latest incident of a long line of going away parties, baby showers, and other paper thin excuses to hit up casual acquaintances for gift contributions.
I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.
Her approach toward relationships isn’t any more effective. Once she decides fate has destined her to be with The Musician, she embarks on a quest of self-improvement that will make her his perfect match inside and out. How and if they will finally meet is hardly relevant, since his social media profiles and extensive Google search results offer her plenty of information until she can formulate a plan.
It isn’t all fun and games and quirky laughs, though. This book surprised me with the amount of depth it took on, particularly in the second half. As Eleanor is half-dragged into meeting both Sammy and Raymond’s very charming families, she’s forced to acknowledge the toxicity of her relationship with her own mother. From the outset, their weekly conversations are uncomfortable at best, escalating to vicious verbal abuse as Eleanor’s childhood is slowly revealed.
The notion that something is wrong is carefully built on dozens of casually dropped phrases and side comments, with all the little pieces culminating in some marvelously crafted truth-bombs that bring a certain level of suspense to the book. I found that these elements elevated Eleanor’s story from an easily-dismissed quirky girl tale to a journey of truth, trauma and recovery.
But before you think this a total Debbie Downer book, rest assured that it never loses its heart. Eleanor may learn that she doesn’t have to be closed off and friendless for life, but it’s not as if she undergoes some Cinderella-style transformation into a socialite princess. Her endearing awkwardness remains, she just gains the tiniest slice of tact along the way. I also thought the depictions of her outward transformation were handled very nicely. Her initial impetus for a new haircut and clothes is to impress The Musician, but she ultimately enjoys her new look and never sells her soul to the fashion devil. She’s conscious about remaining true to herself, and this is conveyed strongly enough to give a positive vibe to her efforts rather than one that shames the beauty industry.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is, in fact, a completely fine book. The dry sense of humor means that practically every sentence could be its own pull-out quote, and the gradual introduction of deeper subject matter ensures that it’s a book you’ll remember. Eleanor’s voice, however, is what carries it to victory, because who hasn’t wanted to sneak food out of a wedding reception?
The evening wasn’t completely wasted, however, because I managed to slip almost a dozen sausage rolls into my shopper, wrapped in serviettes, for later.