Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, except that she’s not fine at all. The large scar on her face and her oddly developed social skills mean that she’s the butt of the joke for her gossipy coworkers. She lives by herself, going entire weekends without human contact, downing bottle after bottle of vodka alone in her flat. Her one human connection is with her vicious Mummy, who contacts her once a week seemingly just to insult and berate her.
When Eleanor and office IT guy Raymond witness an elderly man collapsing in the street, they take him under their wing to ensure that he gets to the hospital safely. Thus begins Eleanor’s first friendship in decades, and, maybe, the first step to repairing her heart.
I’ve been highly anticipating this book for a good nine months or so. It seems like everybody loves it — I mean, zero percent one-star ratings on Goodreads is almost unheard of — so I figured it had to be good. It took forever for my library to get a copy and then another couple forevers for my hold to come in, but I was thrilled when I got the email that it was finally mine.
This book was not at all what I expected. To be honest, I don’t even really know what I was expecting. The book is divided into three parts — Good Days, Bad Days, and Better Days — and let me tell you, when I got to Bad Days, I had to put the book down for a bit and watch a couple episodes of One Day at a Time on Netflix to put myself in a good enough mood to carry on.
I don’t want to talk about what happens over the course of the book, other than to say that it’s heartwarming how such small changes in Eleanor’s life can make such a big difference. I did see a few negative reviews talking about how Eleanor is “cured” by getting a haircut or going out to lunch with a friend, and I think that’s deliberately missing the point. First of all, Eleanor is never “cured” of anything. She’s lived a terribly difficult life with a mother whose only goal was to make her miserable. If a woman who’s always been told that she’s ugly and undesirable feels good about herself after taking control of her appearance, let her! If grabbing coffee and a scone with a friend makes her happy, just let her enjoy it. I never got the impression that any of the small changes in Eleanor’s life were done with the express intent of “curing” her. They were just that, small changes, done to make her life slightly more bearable.
There are two reasons for my rating of four stars rather than five. First, it took me some time to really get invested in this story. I read twenty pages here, thirty pages there, and then all of a sudden it was midnight and I’d finished the rest of the book in one sitting. Second, I was not a fan of the twist at the end. I felt like it was cliched and overdone and the book would have been better without it.
One thing I can say made this book better was the utter lack of romance. Now, sure, Eleanor gets a crush on an unattainable musician (we’ve all been there) and this is a fairly big piece of the story. But I was really worried that love would somehow save Eleanor, and I am so happy that it didn’t. This story would not have been nearly as strong had Eleanor’s recovery been at the hands of some love interest.
All in all, this was a really strong debut and I can’t wait to see what Gail Honeyman comes up with next.
Final rating: ★★★★☆