I am just now making my way through a book that many others had the pleasure of reading back in 2017. For whatever reason, it took me all this time to finally read Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
The Situation: Eleanor Oliphant spends most of her time alone, blissfully alone, and she would not have it any other way. She finds most conversation tiresome, including her weekly phone calls to her mother. Thankfully, her job in accounts receivable at a design firm allows for minimal social interaction with her workmates, though Raymond, the new IT guy, somehow becomes an exception to this. Social cues that most everyone else takes for granted go right over Eleanor's head, and most of her observations regarding how people interact with each other, though often accurate and poignant, can come off as judgmental and cold. But even Eleanor proves to not be immune to the presence and charms of a local musician, whom she has decided she is meant to spend the rest of her life with.
The Problem: Contrary to what Eleanor tells herself, it is actually not okay that she spends so much time alone. Despite her harsh judgment of Raymond's appearance, his smoking, and his lack of certain social graces, her interactions with him are one of the few things that could assist her in operating normally with the rest of society. Strangely enough, her sudden and unhealthy fixation with the local musician is also helping her become more familiar with how most people function. But it is when she and Raymond find themselves assisting a stranger that Eleanor will begin expanding her social circle to include warm, bighearted people who are genuinely interested in who she is and how she is doing. Eleanor soon finds herself receiving what her mother was never willing to give, and she may not survive if she does not allow it to continue.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present-day Scotland. With Eleanor as the narrator, we are treated to an incredibly regimented daily routine, right down to the foods she eats at every meal, and even on the weekend. If Eleanor does not see a need for it, then there is no place for it in her life, and this includes people. She holds her coworkers in little esteem, and for the most part, the feeling seems to be mutual. If it was not for an incident with Sammy, a sweet older man in delicate health, Eleanor would have no reason to continue interacting with Raymond from IT, therefore allowing her to remain mostly friendless and alone. Of course, Eleanor does have her mother, but she does not exactly make her daughter feel loved and accepted. It is tempting to simply label Eleanor as socially awkward or rude and then move on, as certainly many people in her life have done. But it soon becomes clear that while Eleanor may be curt, and judgmental, and cold, she is also hurting, and hiding, and simply needs someone to reach out.
My Verdict: This book came in third in the Best Fiction category for the Goodreads Choice Awards for a reason. For one, the character development is spot on. The layers that make up Eleanor Oliphant are peeled back slowly, but not too slowly, revealing just enough at just the right times. The pacing is fantastic, and the voice is magnificently done without being too much, if that makes any sense. And while Eleanor's pain is not something everyone can relate to, it may be safe to say that we have all had moments when we felt...off...socially. As if people are always looking at us, knowing we do not belong, and that we have no clue what we are doing. But at the same time, we wanted to believe we were fine, sometimes because that belief is the only reason we can keep moving forward.
Favorite Moment: When Eleanor is amazed at how much Bobbi Brown make-up costs. It is one of the many things on which I commiserated with her.
Favorite Character: Sammy Thom is the nice old man Eleanor and Raymond end up assisting after he takes a nasty fall in the street. He practically invites the two strangers into his life and family and could not have exhibited more gratitude and grace towards them. He is one of the many people Eleanor needed in her life but didn't know it.
Recommended Reading: I recommend You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds by Jenny Lawson. Sure, it is part coloring book, but it is also filled with motivation from someone who often finds it difficult to be inside her own mind.