Spending time with Eleanor Oliphant never felt like a chore. Having a person who doesn’t like to divulge where they live, confide there inner life to you is little short of a gift, and Eleanor’s world was a delight. From the start, Eleanor was more than a character. The moment she walked into her office, past the co-workers who mocked her, she felt real. Even now, I can imagine her insisting I call her Miss Oliphant. In the two and a half days it took me to read the book, I kept updating my sister on Eleanor’s progress as if she was a friend I’d just gotten off the phone with.
What’s surprising is that despite her colourful perspective of the world, Eleanor doesn’t have a life. She has an existence, one that is defined by routine. She works, she eats her Tesco meal deal, she listens to The Archers and every weekend she drinks two bottles of vodka to carry her through to Monday. She doesn’t have friends, a social life or aspirations, she has crosswords and a potted plant. It took me until her first Wednesday night phone call with her mother to realise that it wasn’t that she didn’t want those things, but that she didn’t think she deserved them.
A childhood spent with a cold, cruel mother with lavish tastes and foster families who passed her one time and again, have given Eleanor a limited experience of love and care. She values decorum and good manners over kindness and sincerity because she’s never really known anything else. But then she stumbles across a musician who just might be the one, and in her quest to meet him she inadvertently befriends the IT technician at work who fixes her computer.
Raymond is the complete opposite of Eleanor, driven by emotion over logic. He does things because he feels it’s the right thing to do, rather than because he thinks he should. It was an absolute delight to watch Eleanor watching Raymond with the sceptical fascination of a visitor at the zoo, and how their friendship helped her navigate the hazardous world of social interaction. She’s so fixated on transforming her appearance in preparation for her fateful encounter with the musician that she doesn’t realise how much she’s blossoming from the inside.
Eleanor takes her first tentative steps into the world and realises that you might not need other people, but sometimes you want them. And that’s fine too.