“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
Gail Honeyman‘s 2017 debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, follows an out-of-the-ordinary character who leads a simple but strictly routined life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day, and she buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. But her life is anything but fine, as much as she will tell you otherwise.
Eleanor Oliphant is a little weird and struggles with appropriate social skills. She tends to say exactly what she’s thinking, and avoids all social interactions, apart from her unavoidable weekly chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling IT guy from her office, and they save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk. Although she hadn’t planned to welcome anyone into her once secreted life, Eleanor begins to look forward to changes in her schedule, as Raymond begins to rescue her from the life of isolation that she has been living, as she is forced to face the profoundly damaging past that she has been hiding from.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one of my favourite recent reads. It is beautifully original and subtly unpredictable, told through the eyes of an awkward character who we are all the more happy to admit that we’ve felt like or agreed with at some point in our lives.
For a character who we would typically think was unrelatable, I smiled throughout at Eleanor’s naivety, awkwardness and bluntness, and related quite often to her way of ways of thinking about the world. I wouldn’t say the things that she says out loud, but we all have days when we want to shut out the world because of how idiotic the people residing in it can be. If you’ve had a day recently when you’ve thought “Ugh, I hate people”, then this book is most definitely for you.
Through Eleanor’s brilliantly crafted character, you can be comforted in knowing that you are not alone on those days when you feel a bit lonely. Eleanor’s awkwardness is certainly at an extreme and her literal approach to everything is comical, but she’s also very self-aware and you can see that she has a pure heart, so there’s so much to love about her. However, as much as she is truth-sayer, she can’t see the truth about her own life.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine may seem quite straight forward at first, but it quickly becomes apparent that something has happened in Eleanor’s past. However, we are given very few clues as to what that might be. In fact, you have no idea where the story is going in either Eleanor’s present or past. But this isn’t a story that you read on edge, waiting for a big twist to hit you in the face. This is a story that you simply take your time to enjoy, knowing that there is something unspoken and that, eventually, Eleanor will let something slip to explain exactly why she is the way that she is.
The story is a very personable one and, deep down, is all about kindness, sending the heartfelt and very relevant message that it’s fine to not be fine. I feel like this book has been released at just the right time. I don’t know if it’s because of the fact that women are opening up about their feeling more in the media these days and that it is more acceptable to be so honest, or if it’s just because I have come to experience a little loneliness in my own life, but there’s something very modern about a character like Eleanor Oliphant and how a character like her feels very normal in our world today.
However, whilst this is a book that I absolutely loved and there are some good twists and revelations, there is also a lot left unanswered. We never get a full, clear story of what happened as things abruptly come to an end, so I was left completely in awe of this one.
That being said, Eleanor Oliphant is a heroine that will remain with me, so if there’s one book that you’re going to read this year, make sure it’s this one!