Bookshelf – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

If you believe everybody’s broken in some way, or at least capable of being riven by life’s random tribulations, then you will bond with Eleanor Oliphant.

Nine years ago, Eleanor showed up for a job interview with “a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm,” got hired nonetheless, and, at age 30, alone and hermetic, holds her fractured self together through rigid routine, harsh dismissal of others, and wet weekends of self-dosing with bottom shelf vodka.

Eleanor is far from fine; she’s a mess. She’s also the keeper of horrific secrets rooted in past violence.

Yet, Eleanor yearns to be more, and thanks to a series of chance encounters with open-hearted people who look beyond her physical disfigurement and emotional deep-freeze, she slowly morphs, leaning more and more into life’s small pleasures. Ah, the kindness of strangers – such magical medicine.

Eleanor could be a caricature (another heroine of the “resurrection” genre) but Honeyman humanizes her via clever, direct writing that mostly scrubs the narrative clean of cringeworthy gasps and heart-tugs. She also astutely perceives of what it means to be different in a society where normality is prized perhaps even more than celebrity.

“A nose that’s too small and eyes that are too big,” says Eleanor in self-appraisal. “Ears: unexceptional. Around average height, approximately average weight. I aspire to average … I’ve been the focus of far too much attention in my time. Pass me over, move along please. Nothing to see here.”

But there is much to see in the pages of “Eleanor Oliphant.” It is an enjoyable mix of mystery and empathy, fun to read, but also a reminder that we humans are ourselves books whose content cannot be divined by our crumpled covers.

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