I never thought that these would be words I would ever write but Reese Witherspoon and I have something in common. Adorning the cover of the copy of the above book that I have borrowed from the local library here in Ottawa are the words “Beautifully written and incredibly funny“, words attributed to Reese herself and I have to say, I concur.
This book is one that I have thoroughly enjoyed and it will stay with me forever. That is no mean feat, I can assure you, as I have often bought books, brought them home, started reading them and then thought “This character/storyline/setting seems remarkably familiar”, only to rummage through my bookshelves and find said book. That is where this blog will come in handy, at least for me and my poor memory.
Whilst I am grateful for Reese’s endorsement, my full thanks must be extended to Nina, a good friend of mine from Montreal who suggested I read it. And I am so glad I did. Thank you, Nina.
Now, to the review of the book. Eleanor Oliphant is in her thirties and a loner. She spends her life on her own except when she is at work at a design company where she is an office assistant and the butt of her co-workers’ jokes. Her life is one of regimented routine, eating the same things at the same times, week after week. At the weekend, she whiles away her alone time in the company of two big bottles of vodka, dripping it into her system so that she does not get completely drunk nor completely sober. She has no family around her, her only contact with her mother being a phone call every Wednesday, a conversation which Eleanor dreads as her relationship with her mother can only be described as toxic.
She is a sad figure, Eleanor, but she is extremely intelligent, able to do The Telegraph‘s crossword and she has a degree in Classics. However, her social skills are virtually non-existent and she constantly questions the behaviour of people around her with her skewed logic, having no understanding of the nuances and niceties that provide the padding necessary for pleasant conversation to ensue.
The narrative is in the first person so Eleanor is our guide through a book which sees her changing her life, to an extent, with the help of a new colleague at work called Raymond from I.T. Her observations about the world as she sees it are at times naïve but generally hilarious and I mean laugh out loud (like Eleanor, I refuse to use abbreviations – it does not sit easily with me) belly rumblers. Her candour and unique way of seeing things echoed for me The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, another great book with a socially inept lead character which also made me laugh at times.
Raymond befriends Eleanor. They don’t really have much in common other than work but Raymond is simply kind, maybe a bit lonely himself, maybe recognising in Eleanor someone who just needs a bit of conversational coaxing to bring out her personality and become more involved in the world around her. When they help an elderly man who collapses in the road, this shared experience creates a means for their relationship to continue, Eleanor not really being able to find any reason not to accompany Raymond when he visits Sammy, the old man in the hospital.
A whole new social world of party invites and lunches opens up to Eleanor and she decides to accept this change to her circumstances and explores other avenues never before entered like wearing make-up and getting new clothes, even replacing her jerkin.
She is also keen to please her mother and meet her expectations by getting herself a boyfriend and she has someone in mind: a musician who she has seen perform once and seems entirely suitable because he has kept the bottom button of his waistcoat undone through the performance; according to Mummy, a sign of a gentleman. Yes, her whole basis for having a relationship with a musician whose name she only knows from posters and personality from Twitter is because of a button.
I know that you will be keen to know how this works out for Eleanor and maybe incorporate it into your own “What I Look For In a Man” checklist.
This book is very funny and entertaining and I loved it. Honeyman is masterful in the way that she creates comedy and pathos throughout, Eleanor teetering between embarrassing and cringeworthy episodes to those where we, as readers, feel a surplus of sympathy for her and this is done within paragraphs. I think that in making Eleanor so dissociated from the world and quite judgemental of those around her, we can laugh at her lack of awareness with ease as her indignation and aloofness about what we would see as normal behaviour from normal people in their choice of language or gesture is quite innocent and certainly not manufactured. It is simply Eleanor being Eleanor.
But Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is, in a lot of ways, a rather dark book which in exploring the issues that have caused Eleanor to end up in the life she finds herself, raises broader questions about how society has allowed her to be left to this existence for so long. And this is why Raymond is such a likeable character because he simply is a nice bloke with a “heart of gold”. He has no agenda, no hidden motive; he talks to Eleanor because he wants to and he likes to. It is such a relief that he is unable to hear Eleanor’s internal monologue about him which provides us as readers with a few chuckles but I would hesitate to say that Raymond’s reaction would be the same.
I’m not going to tell you how it all ends for Eleanor but I will say, as with all good books, there is a twist to the tale. I also have to add that, in light of it, I may have to revisit this book again at some point, which will be tricky unless I can loan it again from the library soon. Actually, I may just purchase a copy. And quite possibly, a jerkin.