Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. Aren’t we all?
“Fine” is That Word. The band-aid we use to cover up our battle wounds so that no one looks too closely. We all have scars, and on that level, we are all Eleanor Oliphant. She is Everywoman. She and I shop at the same grocery store (Tesco is a gem). We ride the bus and scan the seats for the most hygienic person to sit next to. We value our routine (though not too much, on my part).
Gail Honeyman’s debut novel is impressive and complex. Though Eleanor is an Everywoman, she is very much her own woman. She has a very particular schedule. She keeps to herself and is considered an introverted, slightly eccentric loner by her colleagues. But Eleanor’s pragmatic approach to life comes about very logically.
After a house fire that scarred her for life (literally), she goes into the foster care system, where she is essentially just a number. As soon as she’s old enough, she grabs her independence and steps into adulthood, making her living as an office worker in Glasgow. But Eleanor, practical as she is, is also a dreamer. A romantic who falls hard for a musician when she spots him at a local gig. He becomes a catalyst for change as she refashions herself in the way she imagines a girlfriend of his should be. But along the way she makes friends who enjoy her exactly as she is. Scars, past, quirks and all. Because Eleanor Oliphant has a dark secret, one that I’ll have to let her tell you herself. And it’s a big one.
What I loved about this book was how it managed to take a very real and deep topic (loneliness and mental illness) and handle it with compassion, wit, and humor. Eleanor reveals herself to the reader almost as slowly as she does to her new friends, and her frank nature made me shake my head and laugh. It even asked me to do a little self-reflection. Because, as I said before, she’s utterly relatable. Nothing special, just entirely unique.
Like so many others, Eleanor strives to connect in a world that is often too self-absorbed to notice others who suffer from crippling loneliness. And she’s fine with it – or at least, as fine as we all are with it. This aspect of the novel alone really grabbed my attention. The humor held it, but my heart went out to her in her isolation. I can relate, on some level, to her loneliness, her depression and her dogged determination to carry on. But I’m grateful to say that, for the most part, that’s in my past. I’ve moved on. And now I know others that are suffering in the same way and they tug on my heartstrings just the way Eleanor does. In a way, this novel is a fable, a modern-day cautionary tale that whispers: psst, hey you! Yeah, you! You’re not alone!
On top of recognition from multiple awards, Reese Witherspoon’s cross-platform brand, Hello Sunshine, is planning to produce a film version of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and I, for one, can’t wait to see this story brought to life! As for the writing itself, one would never know that this is Gail Honeyman’s first novel. She knows her characters completely and writes without hesitation; Eleanor’s voice never falters.
The story is told in the first-person, from Eleanor’s perspective, so we see her take on life. That was one of my favorite parts I have to say, because by doing that, Gail gives us a perspective that most people just aren’t willing to listen to. It’s much easier to read a book about a difficult person than to interact with one in real life, but this novel encourages us to take what we are reading beyond the pages and into our lives, even though it’s hard. And it shows us why it’s worth it.
I enjoyed this book because I’m human. That sounds sarcastic, but it really is the truth. Eleanor Oliphant is a flawed, vulnerable character that gives eloquence to our secret thoughts and spells out the awkwardness we hope no one notices. She will make you laugh, perhaps even cry with her honesty. But she shares her catharsis as well. And you know what?
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.