Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was a huge success in the UK, and it was an early frontrunner of what the British publishing industry has come to know as “up lit” – defined by The Guardian as “the new book trend with kindness at its core“. In these dark times, books like those are much needed.
Eleanor is a quirky loner of a character, and very endearing to read about. A core theme of the book is the transformative power of friendship, particularly unexpected friendship. Below are six recommendations for books that feature either that theme or a similar character, and often both. (Often, also, a cat!) And, as a bonus, only of them is American, and three of them are translations – that’s surely got to be worth a few points on your 2020 reading challenge.
6 Books Like Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Mornings With Rosemary (UK title: The Lido) by Libby Page
This is the first book I recommend at East City Bookshop when people say they like Eleanor Oliphant or they want “a book where people are lovely to each other”. In this novel, a young lonely journalist and an older bereaved widow team up alongside their entire community to save their local outdoor swimming pool. It’s a truly charming book.
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
I knew as soon as I heard about this one that it would be my kind of book, and I was right. The year she turns 40, professional botanist May has some existential thoughts and decides to visit her dearest friends in various locations both near and far. If you like what are sometimes called “quiet novels”, and thoughtful ones too, this one is for you – especially if you also like etymology, learning about plants, and characters that verge on the nerdy.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
And speaking of nerdy characters, The Rosie Project is a bit of a modern classic. It’s about Don Tillman, “a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife”. He approaches this as he approaches everything: scientifically, starting with a survey designed to find him the perfect woman, or at least one who doesn’t drink, smoke, or have a habit of arriving late. When he meets Rosie, who is embarking on a project of her own – to find her father – an unlikely friendship develops. I recommend this one without hesitation. The writing is warm and compassionate.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
It was the cover that drew me into this one, along with the intriguing title, and I’m so glad. It’s one of my favourites of recent years. The cat, Nana, narrates the story, and in lesser hands this could have fallen flat, but it’s wonderful here – by turns grumpy, haughty, smart, selfish, and sweet, just as cats are themselves. It has some things in common with Rules for Visiting – Satoru, the cat’s human, travels around Japan looking for somebody new to take care of Nana, and in doing so reunites with some old friends. The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a lovely, tender book.
Love in Lower Case by Francesc Miralles
There’s a cat in this one, too: on New Year’s Day in Barcelona, a stray wanders into an apartment belonging to Samuel, a lonely professor of linguistics. The cat leads Samuel beyond his tidily defined and boundaried comfort zone and towards new places and people – and a long-ago love. I really enjoyed this one.
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
I haven’t read this book yet, but it sounds like it’s right up my street, and has quite a lot in common with Eleanor Oliphant. Like Eleanor, Keiko Furukura has never fit in. She loves working at the the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart”, not least because there’s a manual which explains how to behave around others, and she finds this extremely helpful. But what happens when people around her try to convince her to find a husband and a “proper” job? I think I’m going to have to read it to find out. Join me?