I learned about "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" during an ad on the "Modern Love" podcast. I heard the ad about 10 times before I decided to look up the book on Amazon. In the podcast promotions, the book was described as a love story. With my Cape Cod vacation on the horizon, I asked myself, "What could be better than a romance novel on the beach?"
As it turns out, this is not a story about two people who fall head over heels in love. This is the tale of a woman in her thirties, who suffered extreme trauma as a child, and has become a vodka-drinking, judgmental recluse.
To give you a sense of Eleanor, here is a passage where she talks about a typical Friday morning at work:
"Friday at last. When I arrived at the office, my colleagues were already clustered around the kettle, talking about soap operas. They ignored me; I have long since ceased to initiate conversation with them. I hung my navy jerkin on the back of my chair and switched on my computer. I had not slept well again the previous evening, being somewhat unsettled by my conversation with Mummy. I decided to make a refreshing cup of tea before I got started. I have my own mug and spoon, which I keep in my desk drawer for hygiene reasons. My colleagues think this is strange, or at least I assume so fom their reactions, and yet they are happy to drink from filthy vessels, washed carelessly by unknown hands. I cannot even countenance the notion of inserting a teaspoon, licked and sucked by a stranger barely an hour beforehand, into a hot beverage. Filthy."
And another where she explains why she can't bring herself to check out books from the library:
"The only criterion I have is that the books must look clean, which means that I have to disregard a lot of potential reading material in the charity shop. I don't use the library for the same reason, although obviously, in principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder. It's not you, libraries, it's me, as the popular saying goes. The thought of books passing through so many unwashed hands - people reading them in the bath, letting their dogs sit on them, picking their nose and wiping the results on the pages. People eating cheesy crisps and then reading a few chapters without washing their hands first. I just can't."
You get the point. Eleanor's usual routine is disrupted when a co-worker, Raymond, tries to befriend her. He invites her to lunch, sends her kind emails during the work day, he even welcomes her into his mother's house.
Slowly, Raymond's kindness and patience begins to chip away at Eleanor's armor. As the book goes on, more and more details are revealed about Eleanor's childhood, each one more painful than the one before. I was not prepared for how heavy this storyline was going to be. There were some moments where I had to take breaks, put the book down and come back to it later.
When I posted on Instagram that I was starting this book, a friend commented, "I've never rooted for a character so much." I wish I could say I felt the same, but the book's tone was so much more negative than I was prepared for, that I think I never recovered from it being so wildly different than what I was expecting.
I am so curious, have you read this book? Were you cheering for Eleanor?
*Photo of Gail Honeyman courtesy of @HarperCollinsUK on Twitter. Book cover photo by Molly Galler.