Had it not been for Kristen Ritter’s (the gorgeous, badass Jessica Jones, with a debut novel to be released soon) 5-star rating of the book on Goodreads and generally favourable reviews, I probably wouldn’t even know it exists. Then I thought, well, it looks pretty interesting, so – why not? Let’s meet Eleanor Oliphant and take a peek at her life.
I certainly wasn’t prepared to meet myself instead…
The first few pages were enough for me to feel a peculiar sensation of having read it somewhere before. Or, having written it? On my personal blog? Wait a second, have I just seen words, no, not only words, whole sentences taken straight from my head and put on paper? Am I Eleanor Oliphant?
Perfectly organized, yet quite an uneventful life. Each week passing by according to a specific, carefully planned schedule. Every hour of the day dictated by various errands, shopping at Tesco, repetitive rituals. Vodka. Pizza. Friday nights. Deadly routine. And solitude. Rings a bell? Damn well, it does! But who said that such a life can’t be just pretty fine? Eleanor thinks so, I think so, probably billions of other “lost souls” would concur. “You don’t miss what you’ve never had” she says, so not having experienced anything beyond the quotidian office life, consisting of repetitive, boring tasks, the evenings spent on watching TV and inevitable weekends that she must somehow survive by prolonging “a good night’s sleep”, Eleanor does not even dare to strive for something “better”. You may call her utterly unsociable, even socially awkward (some say she’s autistic, but I wouldn’t go to such lengths), however she feels content with her solitude, as there’s something liberating about it and only weak people fear it. Her colleagues from work, people on the street, even family perceive her as weird, different, and the feeling is reciprocated – our heroine is often incapable of understanding basic human needs and behaviour. Why, miss Oliphant appears as quite… rude, speaking her mind and judging others, with an air of superiority (especially visible in her internal monologues), which makes her not a very likeable character. At least at the very beginning of the story. On the other hand, Eleanor has so much to be proud of, she’s educated, acute, well-spoken, a diligent worker… Why should she be unhappy with herself? Polly, a parrot plant, suffices as her best friend and is the only reminiscent of her childhood.
Her childhood. Now, this is a totally different story and one of the reasons why Eleanor lives in a bubble, completely unaware of social norms and boundaries. Needless to say, there’s still Mummy. Mummy is bad. Mammy calls her daughter once a week to scold her, to constantly remind her that she’s a failure. It’s Eleanor’s only goal to live up to Mummy’s expectations and she blames herself for not being able to satisfy her. Therefore, miss Oliphant simply does not deserve a more happy life and adjust to what she has been given. At least this is what the voice keeps telling her. She’s not entirely oblivious to the world though, sometimes she even compares to other females and recognizes obvious differences, such as lack of a boyfriend (of course, this is the most important factor in every girl’s life, ain’t it?), which ends up in her imagined love story with a handsome local musician, whom she soon starts stalking… Changes, however, always come unexpected and it isn’t any different in case of our heroine, who does not suppose what fate has in store for her. The embodiment of upcoming changes is Raymond, her nerdy coworker from the IT department. Together they face an accidental elderly man’s fall on the sidewalk and save his life, all of which gives birth to a truly beautiful friendship, which is going to derail Eleanor Oliphant’s plans for… a life devoid of any plans at all.
“People don’t like these facts, but I can’t help that. If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days, FINE is what you say.”
From this moment on the reader observes the unexpected twist in Eleanor’s relationship with both, people and her inner self, how she tries to embrace the transition and, step by step, prove herself worthy of living as a “normal” person. Cliche? Of course it is, yet there’s something delightfully hearth-warming in the way Gail Honeyman describes the little things Eleanor starts noticing, the comfort of human touch, the simple pleasure of having a lunch companion, exchanging small talks. The mental and physical evolution of our protagonist reminded me of a typical bildungsroman, with the addition of the author’s quite satirical an approach towards modern life, reflected in the simple language and the ‘lightness’ of the story. At times I wondered, whether it’d been Honeyman’s intention to make the book so straightforward, simple even, but then I decided that Eleanor’s story was indeed meant to convey much more (the book tackles an important issue of mental illness) than it seems at the first glance, neatly hidden behind the easily digestible whole.
I might not have fallen in love with Eleanor Oliphant, but I can (and I do) enjoy books in which the hero(ine) is a total asshole, so it does not alter my overall perception. The character itself, just like any other in the book, is unique, quite complex and well-written. Raymond is a sweetheart and the ominous Mummy will easily make your gorge rise. The plot is by no means revelatory, some annoying adages have not been avoided – “(…) you have to forgive yourself to move forward”, come on, give me a break! – yet, there’s this very interesting part about Eleanor’s past, involving her mum and sister, revealed at the very end of the book, which comes as a bit of a surprise and sheds a new life on the story and the protagonist’s demeanour. All in all, even though Gail Honeyman’s debut novel may not enter the pantheon of the greatest literary works, it is still an enjoyable, uplifting and a meaningful piece of writing. With a clear conscience, I very much recommend “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”, as for me it definitely stands among the most worthwhile reads this year. Difficult too, as I relate to Eleanor’s story and the way she perceives the world on a personal level. Notwithstanding thoroughly enjoyable.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in: English
Date read: August 2017