Easy read with a quirky soul.
Sometimes you just need to put down whatever weighty, intellectual book you may be pretending to read and pick up something nice and easy. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine should be your top choice. It’s well-written, well-structured, funny, sweet and life-affirming. What more do you need in this sour summer weather?
The book was recommended to me by my friend and colleague Isabella who owns the wonderfully cozy and well-stocked English-language bookstore Books & Company out in Hellerup. I usually take whatever Isabella says very seriously, so when she stuck this gray hardback in my hand and told me to to enjoy it, I went home and read it straight away.
When I was a teenager, I used to stay up until the middle of the night to finish a book. Now, with somewhat adult responsibilities, I tend to go to bed at 11. With this book, however, I simply had to read on, because being in the company of Eleanor Oliphant was such a pleasure.
To give some background: Eleanor Oliphant is an office worker, and a very lonely one at that. She works Monday to Friday, then goes home alone and drinks two bottles of vodka to spend the rest of the weekend halfway passed out. Obviously, something is off, though Eleanor is not quite sure what. Her mentions of “mummy” do indicate, however, a muddled and traumatic past, which (surprise surprise) might be the root of the problem.
Luckily, unforeseeable events force Eleanor into social contact with a co-worker who is initially less than charming but then slowly grows on her. Through this new-found friendship, Eleanor slowly begins to unfold herself – both present and past. It’s all very predictable, but Eleanor’s completely quirky personality and use of language makes it fresh and fun. Some examples for your enjoyment:
Eleanor shopping for clothes:
She had tried to steer me towards vertiginous heels again – why are these people so incredibly keen on crippling their female customers? I began to wonder if cobblers and chiropractors had established some fiendish cartel.
Eleanor on the train:
It seemed there was an announcement every five minutes from the mythical conductor, imparting sagacious gems such as “large items should be placed in the overhead luggage racks”, or that “passengers should report any unattended items to the train crew as soon as possible”. I wondered at whom these pearls of wisdom were aimed; some passing extraterrestrial, perhaps, or a yak herder from Ulan Bator who had trekked across the steppes, sailed the North Sea, and found himself on the Glasgow-Edinburgh service with literally no prior experience of mechanized transport to call upon?
Eleanor in a fast food restaurant:
There was nothing to tempt me from the choice of desserts, so I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly. I began to suspect that Mr. McDonald was a very foolish man indeed, although, judging from the undiminished queue, a wealthy one.
You get the picture. Eleanor is lots of fun, and quickly undresses all social manners that others have grown up guarding themselves with. Her transformation from vodka-drinking hermit to caring friend is really moving. It’s like A Little Life, if that book was shorter, funnier, had female characters and a happy ending. As Jenny Colgan of the Guardian says “If you don’t cry the first time Eleanor goes to a hair salon and thanks the blowsy Laura for “making her shiny”, you haven’t a heart.”
So have a heart, and read the story of Eleanor Oliphant. You can always go back to whatever post-structuralism you were trying to wrap your head around afterwards.
Featured picture from Book & Brew