Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Recommendation: Why not, it’s a good read and it’s not particularly demanding

Where to read: On the beach or in the middle of winter

Read with: Hot chocolate

In brief: Naturally contrary though I am, I did enjoy this. It’s a warm piece of work, despite the occasional bleak plot point, and a profoundly humanist one. The real joy is the main character, the titular Eleanor Oliphant, despite the fact that, and yet somehow also because, she is not “completely fine” by any definition.

This was one of those books which it seems like everyone read or wanted to read a couple of years ago. I finally got around to it and I do mostly get the hype.

Eleanor is a delightfully odd literary creation, bumbling her way through life in a glorious cloud of obliviousness, vodka and profound literalness and, over the course of the book, gradually realising her crippling loneliness. Her (inevitable) tragic backstory and her peculiarities are handled with a deft touch, an authorial tenderness which makes Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine such a warm, kind piece of work.

It is also deeply funny, the humour arising from both Eleanor’s own observations and from the reader’s understanding of situations Eleanor does not herself comprehend. The terrible musician she has a crush on is a source of endless amusement, as is her unintentional skewering of pop culture (eg. her bemusement at the persistent absence of Bobbi Brown from her own make up business or her completely accurate roasting of the concept of a manicure). Her total lack of filter or social graces, written not to humiliate her but to mock societal absurdities, are similarly entertaining.

Stylistically, in a very strange sense, it reminded me of Pachinko in that the prose is almost brutally unadorned. It is clearly deliberate (got to love an unreliable narrator) but it makes it both very easy to smash through and also something of a drag in places, usually where the humour goes missing.

All in all, however, this is quite charming summer or depth of winter reading.

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