The book is about Eleanor Oliphant, a thirty-year-old woman who lives her life by routine, she has worked at the same place since leaving university, and has lived in the same flat since leaving local authority care. She spends her weekends alone, not talking to anyone, with her weekly bottle of vodka. She doesn’t want anything more for her life. Until she meets Raymond, and everything changes…
Thematically, this book is about abuse, it’s consequences, and discusses the nature of human relationships. Eleanor believed she could live alone, until she found she couldn’t. She doesn’t trust people, due to what happened to her as a child, and the foster system she went through. But in order to heal, she has to let someone in – first Raymond, and then a therapist. She cannot be an island on her own and truly happy.
The book is set in Glasgow, Scotland. I didn’t realize this until halfway through, and I’m not sure it matters too much. The city is just like any other – Eleanor uses its bus service, walks it streets, shops in its shops. Her world is simple, and Honeyman reflects this in the descriptions she gives of Eleanor’s world.
I did find that it was easy to see what the author was describing. As the story is told in first person POV, it is Eleanor’s descriptions that give us a sense of her world. She uses factual language, simply describing things as they are. This gives a sense of realism to the novel, and adds to our understanding of Eleanor’s worldview.
Honeyman has written the characters with depth – even the secondary characters such as Raymond’s sort-of love interest Laura has a level of complexity, even if a small one. As we were seeing through Eleanor’s eyes, the characters deepened as she got to know them, but always with Eleanor’s unique observations about people.
Raymond is a man who on the surface seems like a slob, a lazy man who can’t be bothered even with his own appearance, but when he and Eleanor are forced together by circumstances, she discovers that there is more to him than a nonchalance about society’s expectations. He cares about his family, and in the end, proves he cares about Eleanor. He’s the kind of person we’d all like in our lives, the one who’s always there, regardless.
Eleanor herself may seem unrealistic to those with no experience of social difficulties, but the way she sees the world captures precisely the way some of us do see the world. In that sense, this book gives a wonderful insight into the mind of someone “different.”
I enjoyed the book, and resonated with Eleanor, with her struggles to relate to people and understand how to behave socially, with her isolation. The book has an open end, and I really hope she gets her happy ending, even if we never know what that is. There is an element of the last chapter, the twist, that I wasn’t sure how to feel about when I first read it. Looking back, I can see why the author wrote it that way, and I think my opinion on this particular element is coloured by my own experiences. I would recommend it.
4 out of 5 stars.