Eleanor Oliphant is the literary heroine we never knew we needed. A peculiar thirty-year-old woman who rarely strays from the routine of her lacklustre job as a finance clerk, scheduled Wednesday night chats with Mummy, and her enduring love of vodka and Tesco pizza – she has things under control. The only physical relationship in her life is with her house plant, Polly. She has no friends, minimal human connection, and while thinks that her isolated existence is perfectly fine, her recurring weekend tradition of drowning her emotions with a bottle of vodka suggests otherwise.
When a fortuitous event forces Eleanor outside of her comfort zone, her solitary life is disrupted by a kind-hearted work colleague, Raymond, who takes a shine to Eleanor, quirks and all. Although an unlikely pair, Eleanor and Raymond strike up a friendship that leads them both into a new circle, pushing Eleanor into an unfamiliar world of social gatherings.
Admittedly, the first chapter was a challenge. Eleanor is an intriguing character, but I initially found her exasperating. She surveys her surroundings with such literal detail and precision that she comes across quite condescending. Eleanor’s observations and inner monologue reveal her highly complex mind, she is intelligent and articulate with a sophisticated vocabulary. Her practicality outweighs her desire conform to what is popular and she has an unwavering sense of social etiquette and old-fashioned values for her age. Despite her sharp intellect, she is socially awkward in the most cringe-worthy way. Sarcasm, colloquialisms, and social cues are completely lost on Eleanor as she takes everything literally.
Fortunately, Eleanor’s eccentricities and frank perspective become somewhat more endearing as the novel progresses and I quickly found myself unable to put this book down.
At the core, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a story about human connection. Without her serendipitous meeting with Raymond, Eleanor might never have known the warmth and comfort of true friendship or escaped the detrimental influence of her Mummy. Through Raymond, Eleanor gains the strength to overcome the harrowing truths of her childhood that have overshadowed her entire adult life.
I loved that Eleanor Oliphant doesn’t surrender to romantic tropes or clichés. Johnny Lomond, the main love interest in the novel turns out to be nothing more than a red herring thrown in as a catalyst to Eleanor’s healing process. Dishevelled Raymond is the true gentleman, but the happily ever after of this novel is not a romantic one, Eleanor’s quest to find true unconditional love is a solitary journey. The final pages leave us hopeful that she is on the road to recovery with the support of a kind and loving friend to help guide her through the process.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is rich with contrasts – a thought provoking and raw narrative combined with hilarious, heart-warming humour. Darkness is balanced with light. Friendship overcomes fear. Hope prevails over the gut-wrenching trauma that Eleanor is forced to reckon with. Eleanor Oliphant may be completely fine, but after blubbering my way through much of this emotional story, I was certainly not fine.
I loved this wonderful story. Author Gail Honeyman has a long writing career ahead of her! I could hardly believe that this was her debut novel AND she wrote it while working full time! I can’t wait to see what she writes next. Until then, Eleanor Oliphant has been picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, to be made into a film. Keep an eye out for announcements! I’m so intrigued to see who they will cast as Eleanor, Raymond, and Sammy.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
“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”
“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.”
“I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.”
“Obscenity is the distinguishing hallmark of a sadly limited vocabulary.”
“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”
“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”
“But, by careful observation from the sidelines, I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo. It was safer that way.”
“I had to google “mofo” and must confess to being slightly alarmed by the result.”
“Life was so very precarious. I already knew that, of course. No one knew it better than me. I know, I know how ridiculous this is, how pathetic, but on some days, the very darkest days, knowing that the plant would die if I didn’t water it was the only thing that forced me up out of bed.”
“Human mating rituals are unbelievably tedious to observe. At least in the animal kingdom you are occasionally treated to a flash of bright feathers or a display of spectacular violence. Hair flicking and play fights don’t quite cut the mustard.”
“I’d made my legs black, and my hair blonde. I’d lengthened and darkened my eyelashes, dusted a flush of pink onto my cheeks and painted my lips a shade of dark red which was rarely found in nature. I should, by rights, look less like a human woman than I’d ever done, and yet it seemed that this was the most acceptable, the most appropriate appearance that I’d ever made before the world. It was puzzling.”
“Tiny slivers of life—they all added up and helped you to feel that you too could be a fragment, a little piece of humanity who usefully filled a space, however minuscule.”