“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
- Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman last week because I'd heard great things about it and because I have very little self control. I think it was Eleanor Oliphant Day a few weeks ago on Bookstagram (to celebrate the paperback release? I can't remember), and after seeing it everywhere and then, miraculously, right in front of me at the book store, I felt like it was a sign (read: good marketing) and was compelled to buy it.
Thankfully I have zero regrets about the purchase, because Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a fantastic novel in every right and I'm so, so glad to have read it. Honeyman is a remarkable writer and has released a stunning debut novel that's smart, witty, and full of heart.
The synopsis (which doesn't do the book justice):
No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
The only way to survive is to open your heart.
This book has such vivid, well-built characters that despite our protagonist's singular oddness, she feels real; Eleanor is not just some stock quirky character. She has an unmistakeable voice, and like the other characters in the novel she is fully, completely, and loveably herself.
I wasn't sure I'd actually like Eleanor at first, to be honest. I knew she was being billed as a quirky, unconventional protagonist who'd quickly steal your heart away, but for the first bit of the book I thought she was going to be straight-up unlikeable. She both lacks and resents social propriety, and believes she is perfectly okay on her own. She is very, very deeply flawed—frustratingly so. The big mystery that hangs like a fog over her narration is what kept me going. But as the novel continues, Eleanor's life shifts, and you're quickly drawn deeper and deeper into her slowly unraveling life.
Before I knew it, I couldn't put the book down.
This book is heart-wrenching. It's a lot of other things too: funny, serious, oddball, relatable. Incredibly witty.
The heart-wrenching part was what got me the most. Maybe because I wasn't in the happiest place when I chose to read it, but Eleanor's trauma and unhappiness weighed very heavy on my heart—so much so that at one point I had to stop and tell my partner that maybe I shouldn't continue reading until I felt better. I continued anyway, of course; it was too good to stop.
And for all my misgivings about Eleanor, I grew to like her. I loved her story, how she grew as a person, how she was in control of how she chose to change her life. Through her sadness and her joy, my heart was ready to burst by the end. It's impossible not to root for her.
Honeyman does such a wonderful job of finding balance between oddball quirkiness, touching slice of life moments, and exploring the consequences of trauma. It's a difficult thing to achieve, but she makes it all work, and to such great effect. Eleanor Oliphant is an exploration of the worst of humanity, and the best.
And my absolute favourite thing about this book: it's about friendship.
No matter how badly one might resent others and think they are fine on their own, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a testament to the truth that life is undeniably better when you have a friend. And I love that!
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one of my favourite reads this year, and I highly recommend it.