March 11, 2018 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Eleanor oliphant is completely fine is written in first person from the point of view of Eleanor. So we see her part of the world, which appears to be the inner suburbs of Glasgow, through her eyes. And what entertaining eyes they are.

Maddeningly eccentric, self perceived as entirely rational but deeply socially unaware, and populated with large and strange fantasies. It was like being in the company of someone a fairly long way down the autism spectrum, but also deeply damaged, and deeply romantic.

The explanation for this eccentricity turns out to be a childhood of abuse with no friends or family anywhere in the world, and none of the social skills needed to obtain any.

She had the intellect to get educated and now has a job. She has social housing to put a roof over her head, public transport to get her from home to work, and Marks and Spencer for food and booze. Most importantly she has a daily and weekly ritual of movement connecting all these elements of her life. Same routine each working day and then a specific weekend routine.

Hence the title – Eleanor is completely fine. This is what she tells the social workers who come to visit every 6 months.

However all this is about to change. A chance event where she bumps into the new IT guy from work outside of work. They are on the street and arrive on the scene to rescue an older man who has had heart attack. As a result she ends up spending some time with the IT guy and his family, and the older man and his family. These are simple everyday things but entirely new experiences for Eleanor. And seeing them through her eyes makes them new for us to.

At the same time she develops a bizarre fascination for a local pub singer and decides he is ‘the one’. So, rationally in her eyes, she begins to prepare for their inevitable meeting and betrothal – her word.

The result of these two plot lines is that Eleanor starts to learn about people, and starts to learn about her own abilities, starts to enter the world.

The language with which this story is told is Eleanor’s – because she is the narrator. The character of Eleanor that the author has created has spent her whole life reading high end books, and nothing else, because she has no friends or family but studied English literature at university. As a result the language is rather formal in an olde worlde 19th century style. She admits at one point that Jane Austen is her favourite and she has read and reread them all many times. So she speaks quite a lot like a character from an Austen novel. I found it very entertaining. I found myself starting to speak that way after reading the book for quite some time. It was most amusing i must say. Rather like a diverting afternoon spent in the company of one’s acquaintances in the drawing room.

It was also a really interesting juxtaposition with her every day life, which was filled with working class Glasgow accents, and the lifestyles and family complexities that go with it. It was also great to compare her obviously rational but cold descriptions of these behaviours with her emotional reactions to these behaviours. It was obvious to the reader that being part of this world, for the first time really, clearly made her feel good, even though she says she doesnt value all this strange behaviour, and she makes it sound like she doesn’t understand it and thinks its all silly – tight jeans, high heels, hair dos, Brazilian wax jobs, family pictures on the wall – you name it.

if you want to quibble about the book you would question whether the kind of abuse Eleanor suffered in her childhood, and then constantly moving schools and moving foster homes, would really result in someone with the personality characteristics that she has – autism spectrum type character.

But really that would be missing the point. The point is that it is easy, and a lot of fun, to spend quite a few hours in the company of this eccentric and damaged character. Her outsiders view on the world is really interesting because its alien, but ultimately it is also surprisingly sympathetic.

This gives the book a feeling of redemption. At the end it seems like she will be getting better and coming into the world. It also seems like she is giving us permission to be forgiving and affectionate towards ourselves, despite all our irrational obsessions and inexplicable emotions.

So I would recommend it. For me it was a lot of fun and most bookgroupers agreed.


Entry filed under: english, fiction.


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