Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher: Viking – Pamela Doorman Books
Publication Date: May 09, 2017
Genre: Adult Fiction, Mental Illness
Rating: 5 Stars
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, and a fine one at that. The title speaks for the novel: Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. She has her very basic needs met she has food,, water, a job, a roof over her head; many people out in that cold world have it a lot worse. For her, this is all just dandy and it’s how most people lead their lives. However, from an outsider looking in, Eleanor Oliphant is completely not fine. I personally felt an overwhelming sense of empathy for the poor soul.
Eleanor lives a somber existence, following a banal, self-imposed routine. She has worked as an accountant for the same graphic design company for the past decade, satisfied with the bare minimum. She has no friends, and dreads her Wednesday evening phone calls from her off-putting Mummy. She eats a sandwich and busies herself with a crossword puzzle at lunch, and eats the same dinner of pasta and vodka. Friday is frozen pizza night followed by a long and dreary weekend in the company of lots and lots of vodka and sleeping the hours away till Monday when she returns to work and the whole cycle begins again. Living the epitome of a secluded life, Eleanor struggles with self esteem and anxiety and through her disturbing phone calls with her mother, the reader learns about what transpired in Eleanor’s shaky past, also explaining for the scar that marks one half of her face.
At thirty years old, Eleanor never seems to have developed any social cues: she speaks with no filter, she does not understand the emotions or obvious intentions of those around her, and she acts in accordance to to what happens in reality but to the ideas she forms in her imagination, such as the happily ever after life she will have with the musician she quite literally becomes obsessed with and begins to stalk. When she lays on her “future husband” something sparks in Eleanor and she goes out of her way to plan out their “change encounter,” taking all the necessary means to ensure that it is perfect and that they will unmistakably fall in love. This includes getting new hair, a bikini wax, seeking the help from stylists the department store, and buying a mobile and laptop to do “research” on her new man.
When Eleanor’s office hires a new tech guy, Raymond, Eleanor’s mission seems to slow as she begins to spend an increasing amount of time with this oddball chainsmoker who does not seem fazed at all by Eleanor’s wackiness. When Eleanor and Raymond help an old man, Sammy who has had a bad fall, their relationship blossoms into a kindred friendship that takes Eleanor a while to ever get the grip of, not being used to having someone around that cares for her. Despite her initial annoyance with Raymond, with his staggered walk, vast array of colorful sneakers, and dingy t-shirts, Raymond’s kindness is ultimately what helps mend Eleanor’s heart, giving her the crutch she needs to cope with her painful childhood memories that she has thus far repressed.
This is a tenderly touching, poignant novel that left me both laughing and crying up to the very last page. Between Eleanor’s quirkiness and her evident detrimental depression, she is a character that any introvert who has found themselves lost and alone among the crowd, is sure to relate to and empathize with. I am giving this book 5 stars not simply because of the humor embedded in the story but because of the author’s realistic, non romanticized treatment of mental illness. Eleanor’s thoughts and experiences are highly reflective of the struggles of so many of us today – flowing through life from a distance, behind a lens, being observers, rather than participants of a life that we feel trapped within, feeling as though we are the only ones in the world feeling this way.