I feel like the last person in the world to read this book, but it left my mind reeling so much after finishing it I just wanted to capture my thoughts on a page nonetheless! If this encourages one more reader to pick this novel up then my work here is done.
At first blush, Eleanor Oliphant is not a particularly likable character. Her social awkwardness and oddities do not lean on the endearing side, and it is hard to understand how someone can be so clueless!
In terms of plot, there are really has two threads that run through the novel – the primary narrative follows Eleanor and her co-worker following an incident in which both help an elderly man that has collapsed on the street. The second follows Eleanor as she obsesses over a local musician and ‘decides’ he is her one true love. Peppered into both are conversations that Eleanor has with her ‘Mummy,’ who is just about the most awful depiction of a maternal figure I’ve ever read in a work of fiction.
Without spoiling the novel and how these narratives entwine and unravel, suffice to say that Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine. While Eleanor’s experience wasn’t as extreme as say Jude in “A Little Life,” I do think that there is alot toward the end of the novel that made me rethink views I had of Eleanor early in the narrative. Many reviews have noted the lack of empathy garnered by how extremely clueless Eleanor is written, for example her incomprehension at things as everyday as McDonalds, or social cues as slight as “rabbit ears.” I admit to leaning toward that view myself early on, but with the benefit of hindsight see how perfectly these were used by the author to capture the depths of social isolation and deprivation of familial love. I liken my 360 degree change in how I felt toward Eleanor to how I felt about Bernadette in Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go Bernadette.”
Eleanor Oliphant has stayed with me days after finishing this novel, and the praise it has been receiving in the literary community is entirely deserved.