The Book That Surprised Me In 2021

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When I first saw the cover and the title, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I assumed this was chick-lit.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

TV Tropes defines chick-lit as:

“The heroines are usually young, attractive professional women, and the book will often focus heavily on their relationships, careers, sexuality, shopping tastes and habits, fashion, and so on.”

I don’t normally read chick-lit or watch chick flicks. I don’t relate to them. I don’t enjoy them.

Don’t be fooled. This book is not that.

I’m also wary of books that win awards and books that a lot of people rave about.

In 2017, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine won the Costa Debut Novel Award. In 2018, it won three awards at the British Book Awards.

This book didn’t tick any of my usual boxes, so why did I read it?

I didn’t buy this book for myself. I bought it as a gift for someone who does enjoy chick-lit and chick flicks. I gave it to her and that was that. I assumed I’d never see it again.

But, one boring lockdown day in August, I saw it sitting on top of a pile of books. You know that feeling you get when you’re so tired and so bored you can’t be bothered doing anything that’s not also tiring and boring? That’s how I felt, so I picked it up and started reading, expecting to be bored.

But I wasn’t. I wasn’t bored at all.

I was more than pleasantly surprised and I’m now so glad I read this book. It spoke to me as a reader and a writer.

The story is about Eleanor. She’s 29 and works in the finance department of a graphic design company. Struggling with a traumatic past, she lives a lonely, solitary life, until she meets the new IT guy, Raymond. Note: this is not a romance.

With my writer hat on, the artful reveal of the character was the thing that really blew me away. Every time I thought I had a handle on who Eleanor was, I’d be hit with new information that turned everything upside down. Just about every scene revealed something new.

With my reader hat on, this is a book about loneliness and trauma and prejudice, but also a book of hope and kindness. It was such a nice change from the stories that I usually read.

It’s a perfect example of how people can seem fine on the surface, but underneath can be a maelstrom of thoughts and feelings and experiences we can’t imagine. It’s a reminder that we don’t always know why someone is like they are. We need to stop making assumptions and judgements about someone we know nothing about.

It’s not that hard to just be nice.

I don’t know about you, but for the past 2 years, I feel like I’ve been living in a fog of darkness and negativity. The real-life stories of the pandemic and lockdowns and protests and loneliness and selfishness and general unhappiness seep into my life despite my attempts to keep them out. It’s so easy to forget that what’s in the news and on social media is generally the exception, not the rule. At least I hope it is.

But this book was like someone had left the porch light on for me so I wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark. It was a reminder that not everyone is selfish, not everyone is so caught up in themselves that they can’t offer a bit of kindness to a stranger.

And a little bit of kindness can be all it takes to make someone’s day a little bit better.

This story left me feeling hopeful, which is rarely an emotion I feel at the end of a book. I want to believe that there are more good people than bad. But, it’s easy to skew the ratio in our minds because we see so much of the bad all the time.

Months later, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine still has the power to affect me.

When I’m feeling down, or I’m tired of trying so hard and getting nowhere, I think of this book. The story and the writing invoke hope and lightness, lifting me up and encouraging me to keep going.

I’m so glad I read it.

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Australian writer and reader. I particularly love short fiction. Always on the lookout for good writing.

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Gail Bird

Gail Bird

Australian writer and reader. I particularly love short fiction. Always on the lookout for good writing.

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