I have to admit that at first, I didn’t like this story. By a quarter of the way in, however, I was hooked, and by the end, I came to absolutely adore it and its two main protagonists, Eleanor Oliphant and Raymond Gibbons.
As the book begins, we meet our narrator, Eleanor, who is a 30-year-old woman working in an accounts receivable department of a graphic design company in Glasgow, Scotland. She seems a big Aspergers-ish, and has no friends. She is exceedingly uncomfortable with social conventions at any rate, and doesn’t really understand them. Her co-workers make fun of her without even hiding it; she doesn’t get that they are expressing contempt. In any event, she shares that contempt; she considers herself to be “ugly, freakish, vile,” as her mother always told her. She identifies with Jane Eyre:
“A strange child, difficult to love. A lovely only child. She’s left to deal with so much pain at such a young age – the aftermath of death, the absence of love. It’s Mr. Rochester who gets burned in the end. I know how that feels. All of it.”
She too, she avers, is “unloved, unwanted, irreparably damaged.”
But she’s completely fine, she asserts: “I don’t need anyone else. . . . That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate.”
Raymond Gibbons is a new IT employee at her company, and she happens to be walking out at the same time he is one day when they both see an older man collapse across the street. Raymond runs to him, insisting Eleanor come help, and that she take the man’s parcels to deliver to him later while Raymond accompanies him to the hospital.
They end up (at Raymond’s insistence) visiting the man, Sammy Thom, frequently, and it is this catalyst that helps bring Eleanor out of her closed-off world.
Discussion: There are as many laugh-out-loud moments in this book as there are those that will bring you to tears. One of my favorite examples of a funny passage is when Eleanor goes to drink a glass of vodka: “I had gulped down almost half of it before I realized that it was actually water. I gagged, feeling it gurgle and churn in my stomach. Another bad sign – someone or something had turned vodka into water. This was not my preferred kind of miracle.” I also loved when she went to a hair salon, and the shampoo girl gave her a “shiatsu head massage.” She commented “[i]t ended about nine hours before I would have liked it to.”
Evaluation: This book will have you laughing, crying, and cheering. I am so glad I persevered in reading it; it is one of the best books I have read this year.
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2017