Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. No, really. Absolutely fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Except she’s not at all.
It’s 2017. Eleanor has worked in the same office doing the same job for the past nine years. She’s lived in the same flat, in the same street in the same place since she was a teenager. Somewhat in a state of denial over her turbulent childhood, Eleanor has convinced herself she is completely fine. Detached and disconnected, this complex and highly vulnerable character struck a chord in my heart that very few have, an intricate web of emotion, betrayal and grief manifested into a mentally unstable thirty-something singleton at the heart of this heart-warming and assured novel.
Flashback to 1997. House fire. Hospital. Social workers. Foster parents. Loneliness. After recuperating from a malicious house fire started by her own mother twenty years previously, Eleanor has never been the same. Being hurt by the woman who is supposed to love and nurture her most, this delicate soul is still feeling the effects nearly two decades on. Passed to and fro from foster family to foster family, this sensitive character has endured more than most. Now, aged thirty, Oliphant has seemingly got her life on track. She’s employed. She’s a flat owner. She’s healthy. Yet one thing missing from her life is one many of us consider vitally important – people. Painfully lonely and in a state one can only describe as utter isolation, Eleanor informs us that she can go whole weekends without speaking a word to anybody, her only visitors being the young paperboy on his morning rounds or intrusive social workers. After embarking upon a poorly judged quest to win the heart of band member, Johnnie Lomond, Eleanor is in need of a friend more than anything in the world.
Cue Raymond Gibbons. IT and computer wizard. Funny. Warm. Caring. Colleague. After assisting a technology phobic Eleanor, the pair soon become friends, a huge turning point in Honeyman’s novel. Here, we begin to unpick the desperation Eleanor has felt for nearly twenty years, feelings of helplessness and despair. After her past comes to revisit her, Raymond single-handedly saves his new found friend from the verge of existential and physical collapse, urging her to seek psychological help to care for her fragile mental state.
One thing I will say about this book is the immense amount of guts it must have took Gail Honeyman to include topics and themes including family grief, betrayal, love, loneliness and mental health. All within the confines of just over three hundred pages we watch an emotionally fragile character crumble and rise again, seek help for her troubles and read of a friendship that has served its ultimate purpose – to provide companionship, empathy and a shoulder to lean on.
A fantastically written novel, poignant and incredibly life-affirming with hints of humour and wit. A thorough page-turner of the highest kind and an incredibly important storyline, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is certainly worth a read.
Words by Paige Bradshaw