Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a breathtaking debut novel from Gail Honeyman. I had heard the hype surrounding the book and, therefore, I had very high hopes – it did not disappoint. This book arrived just as I was moving house, yet I couldn’t put the book down. I devoured this novel, surrounded by the carnage of a house move. I might have been sat amongst boxes and boxes but this book transported me to Glasgow and Eleanor’s world, a world that at first feels very lonely and bleak.
Eleanor is a complex but very real heroine. As the novel developed so did my feelings towards her. Our feelings reflect the feelings of the other characters in the novel, the characters who come into contact with Eleanor. You start off feeling confused towards Eleanor, we don’t understand her. However, over time as the novel progresses, we learn more about her eccentric ways and we grow to love her. By the end of the novel my whole opinion of Eleanor had changed. I felt like I had been on this rollercoaster of a journey with her. I didn’t want to finish reading because Eleanor had become like a friend. You are rooting for Eleanor, I adored her, Eleanor is a fighter.
Without wanting to give too much away – because there is a twist, a twist that smacks you in the chest and crushes your heart – I want to tell you all about this novel and the wonderful Eleanor. When we first meet Eleanor we see her as someone who appears to be a bit of a social outcast. At first I struggled to warm to her. She can come across as cold and devoid of empathy. She is someone who needs absolute order, she is rigid with her routine. That routine also involves a pizza from Tesco on a Friday evening and two bottles of vodka to get her through to Monday. It’s this dripping of information, like the vodka, that shocks you and leaves you feeling those ripples long after you have closed the book.
Eleanor might be a woman of routine but, as a reader, you find her widely unpredictable, you are unsure of what is going to be revealed next.
It soon transpires that the reason for the vodka is that Eleanor is unbearably lonely. She drinks to get through the weekend, to take the edge off, to blur away the ache. As a reader, you go from rooting for her through to urging her to make friends with Raymond, to frustration when she shuts herself off. We learn that Eleanor isn’t putting her guard up out of rudeness, it’s for self-preservation. Eleanor is a character we can all relate to on some level. For me, I could relate to the feelings of loneliness, I’m sure most of us can. I have often talked about how moving to Jersey made me feel completely lonely and isolated. Something that I was not prepared for or expecting. Also, like Eleanor, it becomes a vicious cycle. No, I don’t have a vodka problem, but you start to feel like you are socially inept. However, in Eleanor’s case that social ineptness is more pronounced. I found myself trying to second guess her, was there something wrong with her or was her behaviour a direct result of being starved of any meaningful social interaction? I don’t want to reveal what the answer is but this story is a sharp reminder that loneliness can affect any of us. Yet, this is the first time I have read a novel where the devastating impact of loneliness is addressed and explored.
As the novel progresses we learn more about Eleanor and the reasons for her isolation. We also watch aghast as Eleanor develops a crush on a rock star. A man who clearly isn’t right for our Eleanor. Then we have lovely Raymond and his ever patient ways. It’s thanks to Raymond that we are able to see how hilarious Eleanor is. Just as Raymond grows ever fond of Eleanor, so do we. This might sound like a sad novel but it really isn’t, it’s joyful and laugh out loud funny.
It’s a complete and utter joy to read and everyone should set some time aside to read this beautiful novel. Eleanor is Eleanor, unflinching, complex and hilarious.
Her response to having her nails done made me howl with laughter, and let’s not talk about how she chided the lady who gave her a Hollywood wax. At the root of this novel is kindness, it unites everyone and it helps heal Eleanor. I finished this novel feeling “shiny” as Eleanor would say. On a personal note, it has reminded me that it’s never too late to make changes and have new beginnings. Perhaps reading this novel just as we moved into our new house was a sign. Perhaps it’s not late for us to fall in love with Jersey and find our happy ending too.
Disclaimer – please be aware that I was gifted this novel as I am working with the Mumsnet Book Club. However, all words, opinions and images are my own