Meet Eleanor Oliphant.
One reason it definitely is hard to like Eleanor is just how uncompromising she is. Gail Honeyman writes her as an emotionally stunted person who struggles with social interactions. Because of the way she was raised, she has almost no empathy for other people.
The plot does make clear a lot of the reasons for that later on. But for a large part of the book, she is just this weird, girl-woman who at 30 years old lacks appropriate social skills and barely knows how to take care of herself beyond keeping herself alive.
You would think this would make you feel sorry for her, but with her explicit and judgemental inner monologue going on all the time it’s really hard to feel any sympathy in the beginning.
The description of the book on Goodreads is pretty excellent for this one: “No one ever told Eleanor life should be better than just fine.” That’s really what her emotional arc is about.
Through making her first friend Raymond, the IT guy in the office. Through developing a crush and developing a whole internal love story about a local musician. Through bonding with Raymond when they rescue an elderly gentleman when he collapses in front of them.
Eleanor’s rigid life is forced to yield just enough to let a little light into her childhood trauma with Mummy and for her to realize she deserves more than just frozen food and drinking herself to sleep at night.
As a first-time novelist, Gail Honeyman does an amazing job of making her storytelling style so interesting that you don’t really care if you don’t like the main character. You need to know what happens to her anyway. And if you hang on long enough, she explains her eccentricities to the point you do actually start to like Eleanor, just a little bit. This comes just about the time Eleanor starts to like herself too.
Overall, this original literary creation is an expertly crafted and uniquely told story. It follows an irresistible journey that had me rushing to the end to see just where this story could possibly be going (and boy is it a shocker of a tragic backstory).
If you can get past your initial discomfort and keep reading, this is a brilliant book that deserves all the popularity and awards it has received (including becoming a New York Times Bestseller and winning the British book awards Book of the Year).
If you are looking for your next book club read, this is a great choice. It even made it as a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick! Here is a list of 15 Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine book club questions to get a great discussion started.