Published: May 2017 by Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: Literary/Contemporary Fiction
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
I love this book.
I almost don’t want to write anything else about it. It’s fantastic. I loved it. What else do I need to say? I suppose the point of a review is to say why you feel a certain way about a book though, so I’ll try and explain some of my mushy thoughts about this one…
Eleanor “works in an office.” She thinks this is perhaps the most defining thing about herself. She has no friends, no particular hobbies. She goes to work, she goes home. She talks to “Mummy” on the phone once a week. On the weekends she drinks a couple bottles of vodka and doesn’t speak to anyone until Monday morning. She’s different from other people. She’s good at being alone, and always has been. But when she sees a handsome musician perform, she thinks maybe she has found the one. Maybe she can finally please Mummy after all. In an effort to be more “normal,” she starts to think of the ways she can improve herself. The following quote is one of my absolute favorites from the book, because it showcases both the amazing narrator Honeyman has created and also the personality of Eleanor and the particular way her mind works.
Should I make myself over from the inside out, or work from the outside in? I compiled a list in my head of all the appearance related work which would need to be undertaken: hair (head and body), nails (toe and finger), eyebrows, cellulite, teeth, scars… all of these things needed to be updated, enhanced, improved. Eventually, I decided to start from the outside and work my way in—that’s what often happens in nature, after all. The shedding of skin, rebirth. Animals, birds and insects can provide such useful insights. If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.
She is just beginning this process of “shedding her skin” when she and Raymond, the unhygienic IT guy from her office, witness an elderly man collapse on the side of the road. This moment proves to be a pivotal one, as she is pulled into a world of trying new things, of get-togethers with other people outside of work, of friendship. Over the course of the novel, she begins to deal with her past, make life changes, branch out and make friends. We see her obsess over the musician and we see her struggle to accept herself as her own person.
I was immediately drawn in by the character of Eleanor. She’s different, quirky, a little crazy… but I never got the feeling that we were meant to be laughing at her or judging her. I worried a little bit about this before starting the novel—sometimes characters that are as quirky as Eleanor feel fake. And sometimes stories about them almost seem to make fun of them, like they’re nothing but the butt of a joke. But Eleanor Oliphant was not that way. I never felt like she was unbelievable in her wackiness, and I loved her for her oddities (like her way of thinking in the quote above). Honeyman found the perfect balance in writing an off-balance character… she made her both frustrating and believable… and also endearing. I never once questioned that Eleanor acted a certain way—the narration (first person, from Eleanor’s perspective) is so strong that every action makes perfect sense. I felt sympathy for her. Obviously someone who has lived through a past like hers, which we gradually learn about as Eleanor allows herself to remember, would be left scarred. This book, while funny and heartwarming, is also sad, and I think it is the darker moments that really balance out the novel and make it great. They’re what keep Eleanor from being a joke, and what makes her willingness to finally open up to other people that much more of a triumph.
I think if I were to find anything at all to criticize in this novel, it would be the fact that at times it felt a little heavy handed. Sometimes Honeyman explains something to the reader that doesn’t need explaining. The narration and actions were strong enough to tell me what I needed to know without it being spelled out, and so at times these explanations felt a little redundant. But honestly this is nothing but a small complaint, and it is certainly not something that should deter anyone from picking up this wonderful novel.
If you haven’t already read it, get yourself to the bookstore or the library right now. I mean it. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s honest, and very well written. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. As for me, I’ll just be sitting here, maybe rereading it a time or two, impatiently waiting for Gail Honeyman to write her next book!