At first glance, 30 year-old Eleanor Oliphant might be considered rude, at worst, or quirky, at best.
An accounts payable clerk for a small graphic design firm in Glasgow, Eleanor keeps to herself. Her weekly routine of 9 years never wavering.
Until she makes her first friend.
Raymond, who works in IT at Eleanor’s office location, seems an unlikely companion of any sort for the strange woman. Yet, somehow, he finds a way to slowly infiltrate the world that is Eleanor Oliphant.
Written in first person, we can literally read the thoughts of Eleanor and see the inner workings of a mind that is haunted by memories that aren’t uncovered until much later in the story. A well-read sleuth is likely to figure out the ending before the last chapter, but the book is enjoyable, nonetheless.
There are vivid supporting characters, (even a cat!), and these are well-written, never overshadowing Eleanor’s story in any way. They only enhance the narrative, as good supporting characters should.
These days, loneliness is the new cancer—a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.
It’s been a long, long time since a book made me cry actual tears. Years. But this one hit me hard in some very real places.
Feeling very “other” or different.
The process of therapy and uncovering layers of painful things that you’d just as soon forget.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The desire for unconditional love.
The work of healing yourself, and learning to be comfortable with your own voice.
All of these themes resonated with me in some way, and brought actual tears from my eyes.
Having recently battled some of the worst depression of my life, the vivid descriptions of how that feels…..was very heavy, but also painted an accurate picture of what it looks and feels like to be in the midst of such inner darkness.
The practical, non-chalant ways that things one normally finds unconscionable end up sounding practical.
The way time passes in a haze.
The way that a desire for any single thing that would make the pain stop becomes the sole focus.
These are just a few examples of how the subject of depression is experienced by Eleanor.
But this breakdown of sorts doesn’t evolve until later in the story, and it’s only a very small part of a much more complex and compelling narrative.
There is a large scattering of humor throughout the book, but those with a dry wit will appreciate it best. Eleanor’s childhood was so unconventional, everyday conversations and experiences can simultaneously amuse, disgust, or perplex her, making for some truly funny moments that help the reader feel as though they are truly seeing things from Eleanor’s point of view and not just reading a story about her.
I’m not ashamed to say that this book is my favorite book club selection thus far. It moved me on a very deep and personal level, but the realness of it is wrapped in a beautiful literary package that made even some of the most heartbreaking moments some of the most rich and beautiful.
When I started my book club, it was books like this that I hoped to discover.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completly Fine. And she is my new hero.