Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and, The Bookshop of Yesterdays

Here are two novels that I'm putting into one post, because: 
  1. They are both books in which the reader, and the protagonist, have to figure out what the Terrible Thing in the Past is;
  2. They're both bestselling first novels, and very recent, and I picked them up from our Little Free Library; and 
  3. My friend made me read the first one, and I'm going to make her read the second one.


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

This novel was all the rage a couple years ago, but I never got to it until now -- one of my closest friends read it recently, and recommended it to me.  Pretty soon I came across a copy in our Little Free Library and took it home, and I thought a quarantine would be a good time to read it.  Also, the April book for that one TBR challenge is supposed to be the newest book on the TBR shelf, and while I'm not 100% sure which book is the newest, this one seemed like a pretty good bet.  So here's the story:

Eleanor Oliphant works in a Glasgow office and has no friends, no outside life besides books and TV at home.  She's not very good at getting along with others -- she's very rigid and tends to say whatever she thinks -- and also she spends every weekend drunk in order to make the time go by.  When the kind of doofy IT guy, Raymond, starts being friendly, she is horrified and doesn't know what to do.  Oh, and she is suddenly convinced that a local singer is her one true love; he just doesn't know it yet.

So the reader spends the novel trying to figure out what Eleanor's deal is, as she starts to think about maybe going out into the world a little bit, and maybe letting the world in a little bit too.  Eleanor is a mess, and a very lovable one, but she has a lot to figure out.  Eleanor is terrified of remembering her own life, of having emotions or needs, of opening herself to anyone at all.

What I most appreciated about the story was that Raymond and Eleanor are friends.  It's not a friendship that transforms into a romance; it's just two friends helping each other figure out life.  It's a good read, and so I'm glad my friend made me pick it up.


The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson

When Miranda turned 12, her wonderful, imaginative, and fun Uncle Billy -- a seismologist who also owned a bookstore -- disappeared from her life.  She was devastated, and nobody would explain what happened.  Her mother simply wouldn't talk about Billy. 

At 27, Miranda is a history teacher on the other side of the country, and has just moved in with her boyfriend.  She doesn't think about Billy very much any more, but then she gets the news that her uncle has died -- and a book and card arrive in the mail.   They're obviously clues to a Billy-style scavenger hunt, but to what?  Miranda travels home for the funeral, and finds that Billy has left her the bookstore.  As she follows the clues to his riddles, she is also following a trail that will lead her to the story of what happened when she turned 12, why Billy disappeared, and why her mother has kept so much from her.

There is a lot of emotional interplay between the characters, and a lot of exploration of the fact that we never know people completely; we all show different sides to different people, and often our parents are the people we know least.  We tell ourselves stories about things that happened, but it's impossible to know history completely; all we ever get to know are certain viewpoints, certain facts, and the interpretation we put on those decides a lot.  Billy, Miranda, and her mother each have their own interpretations, and some of them are going to have to let go; all of them need to forgive each other.

I enjoyed this one a lot. Good stuff.

Comments

  1. Aw, it's very lovely that Eleanor Oliphant is just about friendship. I'm not mad at romance or anything (au contraire!) but it can be lovely to spend some time in a book that just cares about friendship. Maybe I'll pick it up!

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  2. Exactly! I don't mind a romance, but it was refreshing to have a friendship.

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  3. Totally agree with the "it's fine to just be friends" message. I liked Elinor and I'll have to check out the Bookshop book.

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