Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

eleanor oliphant is completely fine book cover

Sorry, ya’ll. Back to reviewing books. Or at least, some books, since Blogging for Books has shut its doors and the free book gravy train has stopped.

Also, this review contains what some would call spoilers. So read at your own risk.

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I cringed through the first few chapters of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The protagonist, Eleanor, is a socially awkward, 30-year-old office worker who read Classics in college. Her coworkers dislike and mock her, she’s got no friends and her weekend routine involves knocking back a bottle of wine on Fridays, enjoying a frozen pizza and working her way through a bottle of vodka over the next two days, hovering somewhere between sober and drunk but never really falling into either category.

But there’s more to Eleanor than social awkwardness (my first assumption was that she was on the spectrum, but in the end, I think her awkwardness comes from prolonged social isolation) and inexpensive vodka.

She’s got some issues that haven’t really been discussed or resolved over the course of her life. Mainly the fact that her mother tried to kill her (spoiler) and that she spent much of her childhood being bounced from foster home to foster home.

So Eleanor’s been coasting along, content with weighing the merits of ready-made meals at Tesco and M&S (the book is set in Glasgow) and content with her lonely but very well structured life. Then things start to happen. She “meets” a guy she’s sure is the one and starts planning their new life together (although this doesn’t work out since he’s a singer in a band and also a bit of a jerk. Also, he doesn’t know she exists).

She also makes a friend at work and with him, helps to save an elderly man who has a heart attack on the street. All the while, in the background, her past and unresolved family issues are about to boil over.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, I got the sense that it was trying to be two novels in one. On the one hand, there’s the charming of hilarious story of an awkward loner who breaks out of her shell and finds friendship and acceptance. On the other hand, there’s the story of horrible abuse and the lasting effects it’s had on Eleanor. All that seemed glossed over and handled a bit too neatly, especially at the end when it’s magically revealed that her mum’s been dead this whole time and the woman Eleanor’s spoken with on a weekly basis was just a figment of her imagination.

There are a lot of threads running through Eleanor Oliphant. Her life is messy, just like anyone else’s. But I wonder how much stronger of a story the book would have been if the author had chosen one thread to focus on rather than giving a passing interest to multiple.