This book sneaks up on you. At first it reads like a charming British pop novel about an eclectic and off-center narrator, who were told and briefly shown is a little odd. We know she’s treated as a kind of comical pariah at work, and are given evidence as such early in the novel when she takes a young coworker on a kind of date to a concert and falls head over heels in love (more or less, but way less) with the lead singer of the headlining band.
But as the novel progresses, it’s clear that Eleanor Oliphant is living a half-life of sorts. She’s completely held captive by significant childhood trauma whose effects color and control every aspect of her life, and the charming air about her becomes increasingly more clear as a defense against the painful reality she inhabits. This trauma begets more and more trauma, and when we find her, she’s just had a minor breakthrough. She’s met a nice man (a friend!) who has helped to hold a mirror up to defenses and deflections of her life and has slowly helped her see a way forward.
This is a beautiful and serious book that’s also incredibly charming and funny. It’s warm and tender without feeling condescending or placatory. It’s also a novel I do not in fact want Reese Witherspoon to make a movie of because I really do feel like it needs to be British, and she is not British, and well maybe we should stick with what works.