Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Published: May 2017
No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than 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 timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But 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.
Hannah’s review kick-started me reading this book, a book that I would pause to stare at on the shelves, tempted to check out or purchase, but kept walking by. I’m glad I bought it. It’s now the fourth book I’ve given 5 stars to in 2018, and it deserved every single one of them and more.
I was concerned this would be another curmudgeonly-character book, one of the many hitting shelves lately like a trend, but that’s not the case. Eleanor is truly a book from the heart and soul of introverts, of the lonely, of the scared. There were many moments throughout the novel that I could relate to Eleanor so strongly — such as the times her social commentary was so spot on, I’m sure other introverts thrust in many social situations feel the same (we just don’t speak out on it like Eleanor does) — and other times it was achingly clear that she had boxed herself into isolation out of fear, and thus didn’t realize she had become a lonely person. Yes, she’s fine (she has a job, she has food, she has shelter), but her moments of shock and sadness at basic human touch (a hairdresser running fingers through her hair, a hug from a motherly stranger) just…hit me right in the feels, for lack of a better phrase.
Numerous reviews will tell you this is a heartwarming novel, or humorous, or curious. I’m not sure it’s any of those, but I can certainly see why people would review it as such. There are moments in Eleanor’s interactions with others and her internal thoughts that were funny (the way she would find certain aspects of social expectations bemusing, for one thing), but more often than not I found them relatable. Perhaps it stems from my own thoughts and experiences as an introvert, as someone who has felt deep sense of loneliness and fear. There were parts that certainly made my heart melt, like Sammy’s family or Raymond’s mother, but this is not a light-hearted novel. It’s certainly a curious one, and it made me wonder about all the quiet individuals in my life, the ones who were bullied more than I was as a kid, and how they’re faring now as adults. It made me think about all the elderly people in homes, who call their libraries or local stores or a nearby relative just to make conversation.
The most compelling aspects of the novel, for me, were the numerous Jane Eyre parallels (apart from the obvious social worker history sheet we see early on). Jane and Eleanor are so similar — traumatic childhoods, fires, repression of emotion and identity, crushing losses, determination to rise up and be true to who she is, making first steps forward of her own volition. My heart ached for Eleanor, rooted for her in her triumphs, wanted to love all over Raymond and Sammy, and kick Mummy out the window. Her experience and emotional arc in this novel was astounding — you can see her lightening and relaxing as the novel progressed, simply by her thoughts and dialogue with others — and the twist at the end blew me away. You have a friend in me, Eleanor! You are not alone.
I may love Eleanor as much as I love Jane. That’s how much I loved this book.
This novel was deeply moving and profound for me. It now stands on a shelf of books that have heavily influenced my reading, a shelf full of books I’ll reread for the rest of my life.