So I’m about a year late to the party, but for my birthday a friend bought me ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’. I’ve heard so many good things about it, however, I am usually more inclined to choose a thriller so it has taken me over a month to sink my teeth into it! Tom and I are currently in Spain. We’re in a cute town called Cangas, alas, they definitely don’t have many tourists here as it is quintessential Spain – no wifi, no English speaking waiting staff and can you believe it, no paella! Despite this, it is also a great opportunity to do one of the things I love most – read. I started Eleanor Oliphant on Saturday when I got a train to Norwich but hadn’t touched it until Tuesday evening. I then devoured it.
Tom asked me what the genre of it was. And I actually struggled to categorise it. I would say it is a romance/ mental health/ comedy. It’s difficult to articulate the novel to someone in some ways. Eleanor is a complex, yet simple character, she’s endearing, yet annoying, she’s funny, yet so serious, she’s fantastical, yet realistic. She’s full of contradictions. That’s why Gail Honeyman has created someone that is impossible to forget and also causes you to continuously question what you know about her, what you want to do, who you want her to be.
I would say it’s romantic not because of a platonic relationship, but because Eleanor learns to love herself, she learns how to interact with people she chooses to be in life, she learns to accept what she sees as flaws and lets people into her life, letting her guard down, but through all of her own choosing. Her directness is at times hilarious as people do not know how to react to it, how to take Eleanor as a person. It would be easy to write her off and not bother putting any effort in, but Raymond sees through it all and perseveres with her and a beautiful relationship is formed. Honeyman deals with the mental health of Eleanor in a compassionate, heart-wrenching way. It is like watching a phoenix rise from the flames as we see how Eleanor faces into some issues and demons and decides not to let them beat her, or crush her down. She states that she does not feel sorry for herself, it is simply a fact of life. Which is why I feel like she’s one of the strongest female characters I have ever read. She does not want sympathy or help. I think she just wants acceptance within herself.
As I’ve said, it is a difficult book to talk about, only because you don’t want to give anything away if someone hasn’t read it! I’m glad I didn’t know much about it as it was a continuous surprise for me. When I first started reading it, I have to admit that I didn’t really know what to think. I found Eleanor to be irritating and vanilla. The thing I did love about the book was that Honeyman wrote Eleanor in a unique way – she went against the norms of it being about sex or how someone looks. The book is entirely from her perspective, therefore, we only know of Eleanor’s opinion of herself. We don’t know what she truly looks like or who she is as a person, what she’s like in a social situation. We only see Eleanor’s view of herself – which makes the reader fall in love with her.
She’s a brutally honest woman and her tunnelled vision view of the world is in some ways practical, and she ways, preposterous. She’s the same age as myself but, Eleanor seems to be a sixty year old lady sometimes with her aversion to socialising, consumerism and technology. It is bizarre, however, she articulates herself so clearly, that you can also see why she thinks that way. Eleanor is the best character I have read in a long time (and I plough my way through a lot of books), and it is for all of the above reasons. There are moments in the book where you want to scream at her because she is living in a dreamworld and there are moments where your heart aches as she is faced with hurt and angst.
One of the shining lights in the book is Raymond. He embodies all that is empathetic in a person. He brings Eleanor to life and is nothing but generous, laid-back, kind and thoughtful. It is through their friendship that we see that Eleanor is not who she believes she is. At times in the book she speaks of having no friends or family, other than her mother who she speaks to once a week for 15 minutes on a Wednesday, and says she understands why no one would want to be friends with her. Through Raymond, the reader, and Eleanor, learn that this is simply not the case. The people she meets along the way find her straightforward talking and thinking refreshing, funny and a little weird. But, who doesn’t love a bit of weirdness in their life? It’s for these reasons that Honeyman has had such success with her debut novel. The writing is consistent and the depth in one character is true astounding. Raymond is someone who does not care what other people think, he cares about knowing the person underneath and above all, teaches us that in a world that is often cruel, hard and isolating, that if you can be anything, be kind.
I truly recommend this book and commend Honeyman for writing something that is simply fantastic, funny, romantic and grounding.