In Gail Honeyman’s captivating debut novel, we meet Eleanor Oliphant, a 30-year-old single woman working at a downtown design firm in Glasgow, Scotland. This might seem like the perfect setting for a saucy lifestyle, but Eleanor is less Carrie Bradshaw and more Sophia Petrillo of “The Golden Girls.”
From the outside, Eleanor’s regimented and lonely life—which includes sensible, black Velcro shoes and lots of vodka—might be construed as depressing and that of an outcast. But this is where Honeyman proves us wrong. For all her awkwardness and complete lack of friends, Eleanor is anything but sad or apologetic. Eleanor, in fact, is fine, and sometimes even shockingly hilarious in how she perceives the world.
A change is due, however, when two unexpected incidents force Eleanor to mingle with the rest of the population. First, a love interest, in the form of a musician named Johnnie Lomond, jump-starts her fashion and vanity sensibilities. Second, Raymond, the nerdy IT guy at work, pulls her into various social obligations, despite her best efforts to avoid them.
Hesitant at first, Eleanor eventually finds these interactions to be comforting and full of hope. But old demons are hard to shake, and Eleanor crashes hard into her old ways as she suddenly decides that joy and friendships are not things she deserves.
Honeyman includes some horrific details that make up Eleanor’s past, but somehow they never feel burdening or despairing. Ultimately, this is a feel-good story that will make readers laugh and cheer for Eleanor as she learns that the past doesn’t dictate the future, and that happiness can be hers. This is a must-read for those who love characters with quirks.