Pamela Dorman Books; 2017
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
This novel may trigger some people due to its themes of depression, loneliness, and familial issues. Others might find it insightful and emotionally nuanced.
Gail Honeyman weaves a tale that at times feels jarring and convoluted but for anyone who has survived a deeply traumatic experience – whether or not it resulted in a physical reminder – it can seem like they’re reading a parallel reflection of their lives. Eleanor’s conversations with her mother can also stir up mixed emotions for anyone who has a strained relationship with their parents.
A word of caution: this isn’t a easy read … you’ll often find yourself confused or frustrated with its unreliable narratation and style but if you approach it from the perspective that we’re all unreliable narrators in our lives then it may make you more sympathetic to the story.
There are also a lot of events and experiences that will make readers extremely frustrated and might even cause them to stop reading – such as Eleanor not knowing how to do simple things like order a pizza or being puzzled by every day things while being extremely intelligent in other matters. One theory is that she might be on the spectrum, which would explain a few things … we’ll leave that up to you.
There is some comfort to be taken from the more mundane details within the novel but as Eleanor begins to allow herself to push through the deep wall that she put up to protect herself, and begins allowing people into her life. It offers hope that we can break away from deeply entrenched behaviours and patterns we set up for ourselves as a type of protection and start exploring ways we can start exploring a life we didn’t even dare to think about.