“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue veil of tears is that there is always, however remote it may seem, the possibility of change.”
Now I realize that this quote may not make you want to read this book (and maybe you shouldn’t), dreary as it seems. But the novel, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, is about a person’s ability to make even the most dreadful life better—through change.
Eleanor Oliphant is a peculiar, 31 year old office worker, with a university degree in classics and what we learn was a miserable upbringing. She describes herself as a woman with “Long, straight, light brown hair that runs all the way down to my waist, pale skin, my face a scarred palimpsest of fire.” Her face, specifically, has “ridged, white contours of scar tissue that slither across my right cheek, starting at my temple and running all the way down to my chin.”
Eleanor has no friends and the people at work, a graphics design company, make fun of her behind her back. Her weekends are spent at home alone, with vodka, pizza and books. She has a weekly telephone call with her “Mummy”, who appears to be institutionalized and is extraordinarily cruel to Eleanor.
Eleanor attends a concert where she sees a musician named Johnnie Lomond and immediately falls in love. A great deal of the novel is focused on her efforts to find a way to attract his attention. In the meantime, Raymond Gibbons, an IT expert at the graphic design company, befriends Eleanor. One day while they are out walking they encounter an older man who collapses on the sidewalk. They call for help and begin to visit the man in the hospital and get to know his family.
Through her relationship with Raymond and her obsession with Johnnie Lomond, not to mention her therapy sessions, Eleanor’s past slowly reveals itself. At the same time, Eleanor begins to make changes, such as cutting her hair, buying clothes, wearing makeup and getting manicures. Although there are many ups and downs in her story, the books does end with a note of hope, although you have to suspend reality to actually accept Eleanor’s transformation.
The book has a lot of dry wit and a great deal of unique language which caused me to be constantly looking up the meaning of words. Some examples? Simian, dispomaniac, zetabetical, and rebarbative. I have noticed that the book seems to have gotten a bit of acclaim. However, taking into consideration the level of cruelty and resultant mental illness, Eleanor’s unlikely and rather speedy transformation, the unbelievable purity of some of the characters and the use of language that in some instances does not seem to actually exist, I would rate it as okay (and a tad irritating) but certainly not great. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.