“There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot.”
A part of my mind appears to have grown old, very old. Although its back is bent and its joints hurt, it’s leaning on a walking stick, determined to keep walking. Unfortunately for me, it is this part of my mind that controls my reading. Fortunately for me, that determination is rather strong in the face of everything. Anything could block its path, but it doesn’t look like it’ll give up. Or so I hope.
While I was browsing NetGalley sometime last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine caught my eye – whether it was the title or the cover, I can’t say. I requested for it but sadly did not get a copy (it says “Your request is pending”, but when half a year’s gone by, you know it’s never gonna be approved). So I got a copy from elsewhere – bang in the middle of my reading block (that I’ve written so much about that I think it’s unnecessary to refresh anyone’s memory). It took me a while to finish it – a much longer time than a book of this length and this excellence warrants. But that old part of my mind is hella persistent! The fact that this book is what it is surely helped my determination.
Is Eleanor Oliphant completely fine?
The book introduces us to its socially inept protagonist as she is going about her day, monotonously, following her time table. She’s often ignored (sometimes teased) by her colleagues who cannot quite figure her out. Eleanor is aware that she isn’t whom they consider “normal” or “ordinary” or “regular”, but she constantly feels it is they who are weird. Her life pretty much revolves around her job, her bottle of vodka, and weekly calls with her mother. One day, she runs into her colleague Raymond from the IT department. They see an old man collapse on the street and take him to the hospital.
This incident sets off a series of changes in Eleanor’s life.
At first, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gave off a distinctly A Man Called Ove vibe. The fact that both Eleanor and Ove are misanthropes is probably what contributed to it. Also that they’re both trying to purchase a computer without much of an idea what kind of a computer they’re looking for. But this is where the similarities end.
Don’t get me wrong when I say this – I liked A Man Called Ove, but not nearly as much as everyone else did. I don’t think it deserved all the hype it received. Yes, it was heartwarming and sweet, but it isn’t the best book I’ve read nor will it come close. Eleanor Oliphant is on a whole other plane of brilliance. It’s a book with a pulse – an undercurrent. Every page of it made me feel like there was something under its skin. Something moving, restless, angry. What the title doesn’t give away is this book’s darkness. A darkness you’re surrounded by but one that doesn’t consume you (think of how pissed off Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen made you feel). It isn’t present to shock you, but you are aware of it. Like I said, it is an undercurrent. The first couple of chapters do not point to it, and yet, there’s an unsettling feeling in your heart – you know something is about to happen and not everything is as it seems on the surface.
The last chapter practically took my breath away. It is not shocking in that deliberate way (again – think of Eileen and the tricks its author employed only for shock value), but it creeps up on you, lingers without attempting to do so.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a book that you must experience, not just read. Its subtleties and nuances need to be felt. It’s a story of strength and acceptance and it speaks to you without trying too hard.
And you close the book feeling, in spite of everything, completely fine.