“The streets were all named after poets – Wordsworth Lane, Shelley Close, Keats Rise – no doubt chosen by the building company’s marketing department. They were all poets that the kind of person who’d aspire to own such a home would recognize, poets who wrote about urns and flowers and wandering clouds. Based on past experience, I’d be more likely to end up living in Dante Lane or Poe Crescent.” Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Well, we have another entry into the Extreme Socially Awkward Protagonist category, the quirky and deeply weird Eleanor Oliphant. And unlike the central figures in A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project, which both skewed toward the clinical in their explanations, Eleanor is a survivor of terrible abuse, a fact which unfolds slowly throughout the book. This gives you (me) plenty of time to fall in love with her before anything traumatic is exposed, and I am pretty sure you will.
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine. Eleanor struggles with… well, everything. She works an ‘office job’ in accounting and then goes home where she spends her evenings and weekends watching television and drinking. She puts most of her effort into avoiding as much social interaction as she is able to (relatable). Not so much because it makes her uncomfortable, but more because she sees no utility in it. She wonders why anyone would care what other people did over the weekend and why they spend so much time asking each other about it. She doesn’t understand how that changes or helps anything? I pushed through the beginning of this book with mounting dread that I was going to see a little too much of myself in this character, and not in a good way. Luckily I really do have a few friends, never cut my own hair, rarely say what I am thinking, and drink considerably less vodka than our Eleanor, so I relaxed after a while and got into it.
Things start to change for Eleanor one day when she meets Raymond, a messy and annoying coworker who works, unsurprisingly, in IT. Translation – he is exactly as oblivious to social cues as she is so he doesn’t notice that she has no interest in being friends with him and just keeps showing up by her side to talk. (Note: I have made more than one friend this way, I very much appreciate people who have the stamina to outwait my oblivious idiocy. Why is this person always talking to me? Oh, we’re best friends now? Cool.) One night as Eleanor is leaving work and Raymond is following behind her for reasons neither of them fully understand, they come across Sammy, an older man who has fallen on the sidewalk and needs medical attention. They help Sammy get help and this sets the three of them off on a very unlikely friendship.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a slyly hilarious take on what happens when the cocoons we try to live in crack completely open and leave us painfully exposed. It is a quiet book, where not much happens until everything breaks free but it is lovely. The book has much to say about the ravages of loneliness and how easily people can slip through society’s cracks. I laughed a lot as I read it, and was unsurprised at the surprise ending and weeks later the story is still with me.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Grade B+