I absolutely loved this novel. Eleanor Elephant is a lonely 30-year old woman living in Glasgow. She goes to work in the office of a graphic design company, comes home to her empty apartment, and spends her weekends drinking vodka and listening to the radio. When she meets Raymond, the new IT guy at work, her life, slowly, begins to change.
I knew almost nothing about this novel going in, and I think that added to my enjoyment of it. I was continually surprised by it, but not in expected ways. Things unfold more quickly for the reader than they do for Eleanor, which gives the novel a lovely slowness. Eleanor moves at her own pace, but the book never lags. What surprised me were the small moments of connection, observation, and insight, rather than any twists and turns of the plot.
This book is about a lot of things: trauma, resilience, mental health, loneliness, friendship. But it is also very ordinary and very quiet. It’s a novel made up of everyday moments: going to work, eating lunch with a colleague, shopping, riding the bus, getting your hair done, a friend’s birthday party. What makes it so good is the current running underneath all those moments, which is a story that is both unique to Eleanor herself and also universal.
Eleanor is a fantastic character. Her narration is sharp, funny, odd, and earnest. One thing I especially loved is that, though Eleanor’s life changes in drastic ways over the course of the novel, she retains her particular self, her view of the world, her quirks and personality. This book explores the way trauma shapes lives, but also those parts of self that trauma doesn’t touch. It’s an important distinction.
In addition to being a profoundly moving and deeply entertaining story, there’s brilliant social commentary running through the whole book. There’s so much here about how women are viewed and expected to behave, about the judgments we make about each other based on physical appearance, about the different between our exterior and interior lives. It’s a book about office culture and the mechanics of friendship. It’s about the things humans need that most people take for granted: touch, the sound of other human voices, companionship. Eleanor makes incredibly keen observations about these things that will resonate deeply with anyone who’s ever been lonely, or lived alone. It’s also hysterical–laugh out loud funny. The way Eleanor sees and interacts with the world is strange and awkward and smart and witty, all at the same time.
Friendship and therapy both play key roles in the story, and this may have been my favorite thing about it. There’s no grandness to it, no dramatic plot devices. It’s a book about the seemingly ordinary things that are actually quite extraordinary, that can, in fact, actually save a life.
Eleanor Oilphant Is Completely Fine is sad and wry and funny and triumphant. Ultimately it is full of hope the kind of hope it’s easy to believe in, hope that’s grounded in real, concrete, physical things. It’s a book about how little we know about other people until we start talking to each other, and about what happens when we finally do.
The audio is simply fantastic. I cannot recommend it enough.