Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine…
Meet Eleanor Oliphant. She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living–and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine might just have become one of my favourite novels of all time – upper top 5 at least. Loneliness and trauma converge in this truthful story about a 30 year old woman who has missed out on being loved.
Eleanor is not initially the most engaging character, nor is she very likeable, but it’s immediately apparent that she is alone, unhappy, and suffering from a deep unresolved pain, so deep, that she can’t even fully recall it. She had my empathy from the get go. Eleanor’s frank introspection and deadpan honesty make for many laugh out loud moments as well as a good share of heartbreaking ones. But it’s the extent of Eleanor’s self loathing and the way it manifests itself in a range of toxic and destructive behaviours – many that aren’t even evident until later in the book – that really broke me. She walks a very thin line between coping with daily life and falling into an abyss of self-destruction. Eleanor is entirely alone and completely without love. It’s terribly tragic.
For the most part, it’s like Eleanor is much older than 30, from a different generation or era inhabiting a young person’s body, today’s social norms and habits appearing completely foreign to her. But this is clever writing from Gail Honeyman, drawing attention, via Eleanor’s ignorance, to the more superficial and ridiculous things that we have come to accept as “normal”. I related to Eleanor’s shock and incredulity on more than one occasion with mirth, and as the novel progressed and I saw more of Eleanor’s indignation surface, I came to question what was more absurd: her ignorance or our acceptance.
Much to my surprise, I realized that I actually liked the idea of having lunch with Raymond, and was genuinely pleased to be asked. We had a Usual Place! I steeled myself as best I could, and, with teeth gritted, using only one finger I typed:
C U there E.
I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I’d saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I’d tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally. Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.
Raymond, Eleanor’s un-hygenic illiterate chain-smoking co-worker, is utterly gorgeous. He’s so easy going while at the same time possessing an incredible depth and insight that more than made up for his “many shortcomings”. The way he enhances Eleanor’s life is just wonderful to bear witness to – for both of them. He sees Eleanor, past her social awkwardness and her scarred face and her inflamed from eczema hands; he sees her and considers her worthy.
‘I thought you were a right nutter.’
‘I am a right nutter,’ I said, surprised that he’d think otherwise. All my life, people had been telling me that.
‘No, you’re not,’ he said, smiling. ‘Aye, sure, you’re a bit bonkers – but in a good way. You make me laugh, Eleanor. You don’t give a fuck about any of the stupid stuff – I don’t know, being cool, office politics or any of the daft shite that people are supposed to care about. You just do your own thing, don’t you?’
I was crying now – there was no avoiding it. ‘Raymond, you swine,’ I said. ‘You’ve made my smoky eyes dissolve.’ I was quite annoyed when I said it, but then I started to giggle, and he laughed too. He passed me one of the café’s inferior paper napkins and I wiped off the dark remnants.
‘You look better without it,’ he said.
Above all, Eleanor’s journey from self-loathing to self-worth is both painful and uplifting. She may not always have been likeable, but I loved her throughout.
Sometimes, after counselling sessions, I desperately wanted to buy vodka, lots of it, take it home and drink it down, but in the end I never did. I couldn’t, for lots of reasons, one of which was that, if I wasn’t fit to, then who would feed Glen? She isn’t able to take care of herself. She needs me. It isn’t annoying, her need – it isn’t a burden. It’s a privilege. I’m responsible. I chose to put myself in a situation where I’m responsible. Wanting to look after her, a small, dependent, vulnerable creature, is innate, and I don’t even have to think about it. It’s like breathing.
For some people.
For my Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine reading experience, I combined the e-book with the audio book, and I have to say, the narration was highly entertaining and very atmospheric. If you are an audio book fan, I highly recommend it.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine gets 10/10 from me.
About the Author:
Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.