If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.
Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old, has a normal, unexciting office job, lives alone and doesn’t realise it until later on–quite lonely.
For many years, she’s lived the same day-in day-out routine. The only visitors she ever receives are the social workers for the mandatory bi-annual checkup / interview, and the occasional meter reader. Every Wednesday evening, she has a phone conversation with her mother, who we quickly learn is an ominous figure very much responsible for how Eleanor has turned out to be.
Eleanor’s uneventful life takes a turn when she meets the new IT guy from her office, the ‘bumbling’ and Raymond, who, unlike most people she interacts with, seems unfazed by Eleanor’s social awkwardness.
I loved the characters. Raymond and his mother are very likeable. Eleanor’s character has peculiarities which is well-established has stemmed from her dark past.
I’m glad that Gail Honeyman made the character of Bob, Eleanor’s employer to be normal and well, not mean at all. As it seems the rest of Eleanor’s colleagues behave like they are still in high school.
‘Mummy’ – Eleanor’s conversations with her mother gives me the chills. I’ve seen reviews say that the character of ‘Mummy’ seems too evil / sinister. Well newsflash: there are people like that, believe it or not.
While this book gives the warm feels, it also opens up on dark heavy issues. Such as that of dysfunctional and toxic family members, and the lifetime damage that they can imprint on you. I speak from experience that this is true and I loved that the book clearly shows that we may all have a dark past, some more terrifying than others, and while we cannot change the past or choose our family, it’s entirely in our control how we live our lives from hereon.
The plot twist: this, I gotta say, kind of spooked me! I did not expect that.
The ending: It had a nice, feel-good ending. It leaves it open to your imagination whether they will end up romantically or not. I would have done without the hair-brushing scene though. That’s leaning a little more towards the more-than-friends ending.
The Jane Austen / Charlotte Bronte references
This article provides all the nitty gritty, but I appreciated the references to Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre. First, Eleanor and having a sister named Marianne. All other minor characters in the book are named after characters from Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre.
Eleanor took note of the happy ending of Sense and Sensibility, which also has been poignant for me, in both the book and movie. That shiny, happy, all smiles, love and waves as the two sisters are married together with the loves of their lives. I think that Eleanor would have wanted that kind of happy ending for her and her sister. Alas.
Eleanor and her inconsistencies.
Eleanor’s character has a lot of inconsistencies. I think this is noticeable because Gail Honeyman took a long long time to build up and establish Eleanor’s character, putting her and taking you the reader, to many mundane situations to see how Eleanor thinks and reacts. This was done before any major ‘breakthrough’ happens in the plot.
So one thinks they know Eleanor like the back of their hand, that’s why some inconsistencies are noticeable towards the end. Such as:
Her sudden ‘sophistication’ towards the end. Perhaps this is intentional to highlight her development as a character. But from one who is extremely socially awkward and does not seem to understand normal conversational talk to suddenly being savvy enough to see Laura as a female competition and giving her a sassy retort? (“No need”, I said, bristling slightly. “I’ve recently had luncheon with Raymond, as it happens. What unfortunate timing–I could have let him know that you were asking after him”)
Despite this, I did enjoy Eleanor Oliphant. Very much. The lessons to be learned in the book, such as that of bravery, reaching out, needing friends / people around you, having a sh*t family / no family is not the end of the world, dealing with depression and loneliness all out-do and makeup for the character inconsistency, which seems inconsequential now if we are to discuss the good points of the story.
One thing I want to add btw, is the shape / length of the copy I have (Penguin Books, paperback). It’s slimmer than the usual paperback. In the beginning, I was a little perturbed by it, because the shape reminded me of a ladies’ wallet.
In the end: it actually grew on me. I didn’t mind it so much.
Let me leave this post by a line from the book which broke my heart. This is when Raymond invites Eleanor to his mum’s house.
She looked at him with so much love that I had to turn away. At least I know what love looks like, I told myself. That’s something. No one had ever looked at me like that, but I’d be able to recognise it if they ever did.