Monday, June 19, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Title:  Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author:  Gail Honeyman
Publication Information:  Pamela Dorman Books. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0735220689 / 978-0735220683

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "When people ask me what I do - taxi drivers, hairdresers - I tell them I work in an office."

Favorite Quote:  "I do exist, don't I? It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thing, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I'd life off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock."

When a book begins with a title like Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, three thoughts come to mind. First, Eleanor Oliphant is such a great name. Memorable too. Second, this book possibly joins the plethora of books in recent years about quirky but endearing characters such as Jonathan, Britt-Marie, Max, and Don Tillman. Third, my guess is that the book is probably going to be about the fact that Eleanor Oliphant is indeed not fine at all. Turns out, all three thoughts are relatively correct.

Eleanor Oliphant's name is part of her story. It is not the name she is born with, but it is the one she lives with and cherishes. Why? Well, that is part of the story.

Eleanor is indeed a quirky character. She works in an office, is a loner, and very set in her routines. She does not seem unhappy, but she does not seem happy either. She exists in her regimented world, seemingly alone except for her weekly phone calls with her mother. Those conversations seems to hold a completes story of a troubled relationship in and of themselves.

That leads to the third part of my guess. Eleanor is definitely not fine. Underlying the seeming quirkiness lies a dark and sad past, and the seeming oddities of character are actually a fragile hold on a perceived normal life. Eleanor has grown up. She has gone to the university. She holds down a steady job. She lives independently. However, does Eleanor indeed have a life or does she merely exist in her life? "These days, loneliness is the new cancer - a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don't want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them." Why is Eleanor alone? Why is she the way she is? Is it a chance of nature and biology or it a matter of nurture?

Eleanor's world shifts when she meets her colleague Raymond, who has a story of his own. He manages to create a chink in Eleanor's armor, and the tragic past comes pouring out. "It takes a long time to learn to live with loss, assuming you ever manage it. After all these years, I'm still something of a work in progress in that regard."

This book drifts away from a being a light hearted story of an oddball character into a story of trauma, survival, and the courage to live again. Eleanor's approach to life is a tad annoying until her back story explains it; thus, I find the book a little difficult to get into but then I find myself completely absorbed in Eleanor and the little girl that she was. I go from annoyance at some of her behaviors to admiration for her courage. The only caveat is that the healing process in the book seems to occur rather quickly and somewhat easily, and it is most assuredly not.

Regardless, Eleanor becomes a memorable character, and her story one that will stay with me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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