Dublin, March 2019
A kooky exploration of social isolation
Eleanor Oliphant is happy enough with her life. She works in an office, unwinds at the weekends and endures weekly telephone conversations with her mother. Everything is (completely) fine until she meets the man of her dreams – or sees him performing on stage at least – and decides he’s the perfect man she’s been waiting for.
Eleanor Oliphant is an acute and painful contemplation of loneliness told with great humour and with the innocence of someone persistently rejected because they were never once accepted. Certainly one of the funniest books I’ve read in a while and I spent much of it wanting to reach inside give Eleanor a hug.
She’s quickly infatuated with the self-obsessed musician whose presence the novel confines to Tweets only. Eleanor spins a web to catch him and prove to Mummy that she isn’t a loser though Mummy, who only appears via the phone, will not be convinced otherwise.
Fortunately for the reader (because Eleanor isn’t grateful for the intervention), the author indulges her kinder characters, allowing the office IT man, Raymond, to drag Eleanor out of her bubble and into the wider world when together they witness an elderly man falling over on the road.
The novel is separated into two sections – good days and bad days. The good days are reminiscent of the foggy relief at coming out of a period of something life-shattering; the bad days are plain bad.
Eleanor certainly has issues but these aren’t, as I read in a fairly over the top and paranoid review, a dangerous portrayal of mental health. It isn’t often in real life that people introduce themselves with the insight of why they behave in certain ways, why they drink in excess and alone and why they can’t fit in.
Eleanor’s journey is one that knots until she’s able to start freeing herself and that’s the best thing about this for me: she isn’t a list of diagnoses and medications – she’s a well written human being with a sad history that still affects her present.