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 ever weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything…
I CRINGED. NO, THAT’S WRONG. CRINGE DENOTES EMBARRASSMENT, FLEETING SHAME. THIS WAS MY SOUL CURLING INTO WHITENESS, AN EXISTENTIAL BLANK WHERE A PERSON HAD ONCE BEEN. WHY DID I START TO ALLOW MYSELF TO THINK I COULD LIVE A NORMAL LIFE, A HAPPY LIFE, THE KIND OTHER PEOPLE HAD?
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine… She’s actually bloody incredible.
I don’t know why I held off reading Gail Honeyman’s 2017 debut for so long. Friends both in real life and on the internet would rave about it. Hell, even my old A-Level English lecturer recommended it. Yet, I would hear the rather long title and immediately dismiss it as something a bit pompous. Boy, was I wrong.
Eleanor Oliphant completely took me by surprise. While Honeyman never explicitly gives Eleanor a diagnosis, it seems that our titular main character appears to be on the autistic spectrum. Or at the very least suffering with mental health conditions. Eleanor is the closest I’ve come to finding myself personified in a fictional character. At some points, it was almost like looking into a mirror.
The ‘Bad Days’ section of this book was truly heartbreaking. I may have burst into tears and had my own vodka-induced breakdown while reading. It was just so moving, so overwhelmingly heart wrenching to have what was almost a parallel of my own thoughts and feelings, my own struggles reflected in this fictional being.
However, for all the pain, there are glimmers of life and happiness. Honeyman perfectly balances out the sadness in our socially clueless character’s story as hope and unlikely friendship appear in the form of a colleague, Raymond, and an old man who takes a tumble. There are some truly heartwarming moments that’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside after feeling as though you’ve been hit by a ton of bricks emotionally.
Honeyman’s writing is the main star. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, poignant and at times, quite dark and haunting. The character of Eleanor is a true testament to Honeyman’s skills. All the planning and careful crafting is evident in how she describes Eleanor’s view of the world to help us understand her different thought processes. We truly delve inside our titular character’s brain, navigating alongside her through the intense ups and the devastating downs. It isn’t an easy feat, especially as Honeyman weaves in little snippets about Eleanor’s traumatic background and how that has effected her mental health. A sinister backstory that slowly unravels together with the present day plot.
Eleanor Oliphant is so dear to my heart. Whilst reading she was many things to me. A paramour, a personification of my own agonising internal monologue and even almost a friend. Honeyman writes her so vividly that she feels very, very real.
It isn’t a novel of grandiose dramatic events with action and drama at every corner. It focuses more on the day-to-day life most humans lead. Yet, Honeyman focuses on how these somewhat small parts of the day have the potential to be life-changing to someone like Eleanor. The novel might takes some time getting off its feet because of it, but please do stick with it even if it feels slow!
The slow unwinding of Eleanor’s mental trauma in regard to her mother was entirely shocking. I felt actual pain and anguish for Eleanor and the enormous impact it has had on her decades since. It’s tragic, but at the same time, Honeyman interjects a sense of optimism for our forlorn heroine.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a truly beautiful masterpiece. It will undoubtedly be a novel I revisit and one that’ll stay with me for years to come.