I picked Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine because it kept coming up as a suggestion at several booksellers, both online and offline and because I was fascinated by the title. Whenever I saw the title I had images of Babar the Elephant pop into my mind. That’s not surprising as “elephant” in Dutch is “olifant”. For that reason, I also wondered if there was a link with The Netherlands.
I don’t think I’m giving away too much by telling you that the book is not about elephants and that there is no connection with The Netherlands. The book is set in Glasgow.
Eleanor is a thirty-year-old woman and her interactions with other people are a bit awkward. I cringed through the first few chapters of the book. At times it was so uncomfortable I wasn’t sure if I should read on as quickly as possible or if I should put the book away. Every time I opted to read on. I read while cooking, while having dinner and while making tea. I went to bed too late and then read some more in bed. I still find it hard to say what made it so hard to put the book down, but it is clearly brilliant writing from Gail Honeyman. It’s so good that it’s hard to believe this is Gail’s debut novel, but it’s also so fresh and original that it’s easy to believe it’s a debut.
Eleanor is unworldly. In many ways, she’s like an awkward teenager, except she’s thirty and seems to be immune to peer pressure. She reminds me a bit of my early teenage self in its worst moments. That’s not something I want to be reminded about, to be honest, but thankfully that’s where the similarities end.
One of the differences between Eleanor and my teenage self is that Eleanor doesn’t like hard rock and musical theatre. I loved both and hard rock was one of the things that finally helped me to fit in somewhere. To be part of a group. I was on team black t-shirts, black jeans, and army boots. Dressing up for family affairs meant wearing a black dress and army boots. I loved it. It was my way of rebelling.
Musical theatre was very much a family thing for me. The first time I saw a musical in real-life was when the whole family went to see Cats for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. I was mesmerized. I don’t have high hopes for the film, but I will definitely watch it! Eleanor summarizes her opinion about musical theatre thus: “There is no such thing as Hell, of course, but if there was, then the soundtrack to the screaming, the pitchfork action and the infernal wailing of damned souls would be a looped medley of ‘show tunes’ drawn from the annals of musical theatre. The complete oeuvre of Lloyd Webber and Rice would be performed, without breaks, on a stage inside the fiery pit, and an audience of sinners would be forced to watch – and listen – for eternity.”
It made me laugh out loud.
It’s hard to talk about this book without giving too much away. There are many surprises in there and I don’t want to ruin them for you. I recommend that you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine yourself. It’s a lovely, surprising and unexpectedly gripping book.