When we first meet Eleanor, she is talking us through her routine, and tormenting a doctor. Afterwards, she is being mercilessly mocked by her coworkers, who are unaware that she is in earshot. And, to be quite honest, we can understand why.
Eleanor is odd. She’s the coworker you don’t want to get stuck with in the office kitchen. She doesn’t pick up on social cues, and she’s judgemental. And this suits Eleanor just fine. Other than weekly conversations with her rather horrendous ‘Mummy’, she’s happy to avoid communication with other people. But could her life be about to change?
As it happens, Eleanor treats this mockery with detached amusement – she has ‘always taken great pride in managing her life alone.’
Eleanor wears the same clothes every day. She eats the same pasta with pesto every day, except at on Fridays, when she has a margherita pizza, and drinks the same two bottles of Glenn’s Vodka every weekend.
But Eleanor Oliphant has fallen in love. A chance visit to a gig has opened her eyes to Johnnie Rivers, the talented frontman of The Pioneers. Determined that he is her one true love, Eleanor embarks on a personal and physical reinvention. This coincides with the arrival of the friendly Raymond, an IT engineer, who is with her when they witness an elderly man take a fall, and sit with him together when he takes a fall. Despite her disdain for Raymond (‘I noticed that he was wearing a duffle coat. A duffle coat! Surely they were the preserve of children and small bears?‘ Classic burn.) Eleanor finds herself drawn in with him and as they become close with Sammy, the elderly man, and his family, and starts to find that there is something to human companionship after all.
There’s a touching ‘personal growth’ story throughout, which if it hadn’t been delivered with such heartfelt emotional appeal, mixed with Eleanor’s trademark sharpness. Make no mistake – this isn’t a Hollywood-style makeover story, in which Eleanor gets the guy. Although she’s developing a new look for the really rather crummy Johnnie Rivers, through simple and small acts of kindness from others, she learns to appreciate herself and value her appearance for herself. An especially poignant moment comes after a haircut from Sammy’s daughter Laura, when Eleanor is moved to tears: “‘You’ve made me shiny, Laura’ I said…’Thank you for making me shiny.'”
But as her confidence grows, and her friendship with Raymond blossoms, the calls from Mummy keep on coming, and the ghosts of Eleanor’s childhood trauma, which is hinted at throughout, resurface explosively. And Eleanor will realise that being ‘completely fine’ might not be enough to live.
Both unbearably poignant, with laugh out loud comic touches, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of a damaged woman who has alienated herself from other people, and a tale of small kindnesses, and how they can go a long way. A beautifully written and emotionally captivating debut from an exciting new writer.