Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is one of the best books I’ve read. EVER. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, grab-the-tissues heartbreaking and all kinds of brilliant. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know so I thought I’d share five reasons why Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine.
1. Eleanor is fine sticking to her routine
Eleanor’s carefully timetabled life is under control. She works in an office every weekday and on Friday’s she goes to Tesco Metro to buy a Margherita pizza, some red wine and two big bottles of vodka. Everything is fine until Eleanor falls for local singer Johnnie Lomond and she decides she needs to change a few things if she is to be the girlfriend of a rock star. Eleanor resolves to practise her social skills with the new IT guy, Raymond, after the two of them save Sammy, an elderly gentleman, who had fallen outside their place of work. As Eleanor starts forming real relationships, she’s forced to confront her past and the emotions that she’s suppressed for a very long time.
2. Eleanor is fine being by herself
The first thing that strikes you about Eleanor is how little she interacts with others.
“…usually I don’t speak from the point at which I state my destination to the bus driver on Friday night, right through until I greet his colleague on Monday morning.”
Eleanor spends her weekends by herself drinking just enough vodka to ensure she’s neither drunk nor sober. During the week, she rarely interacts with her colleagues and eats lunch by herself. She does speak to her mother every Wednesday, but their relationship is strained to say the least.
When she does interact with colleagues or customer service reps it doesn’t go well. In preparation of meeting the rock star, Eleanor goes for an impromptu bikini wax at Julie’s Beauty Basket. But Eleanor refuses the beauty therapist’s offer for unguents (definition: similar to an ointment, though typically more oily).
“‘Oh, don’t worry, I’m not much of a one for unguents, Kayla,’ I said. She goggled at me. I’d have thought that staff in the beauty business would have better developed people skills. She was almost as bad as my colleagues back at the office.”
Eleanor doesn’t have a filter and she says exactly what she thinks. This leads to some hilarious social encounters throughout the novel.
3. Eleanor is fine with reading any sort of book
Eleanor clearly has an impressive vocabulary and there were many words that I had to go look up. Did you know tome is a synonym for a book?
Eleanor says that she likes to read as widely as possible to broaden her vocabulary and help her solve crossword puzzles. (Have you read the book? Download the Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Crossword Puzzle and see if you can solve crossword puzzles as quickly as Eleanor does.)
The way Eleanor decides what to read next is just as unique as she is.
“How do you know which one will match your tastes and interest? That’s why I pick the first book I see. There’s no point trying to choose.”
By choosing books this way Eleanor has read everything from management books to books about pineapples. But her favourite is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Her only criticism of the novel is that it doesn’t make enough mention of Pilot, the dog.
I agree with Eleanor on this one, there can never be too much dog in a book (or real life).
4. Eleanor is fine not talking about it
Throughout the novel, Eleanor eludes to painful memories of her past but says that doesn’t want to talk about it. Raymond reminds her that talking about her feelings can help.
“How can telling someone how bad you’re feeling make it better? It’s not like they can fix it, can they?”
“They probably can’t fix everything, Eleanor, no,’ he said, ‘but talking can help. Other people have problems too, you know. They understand what if feels like to be unhappy. A problem shared and all that…”
Eleanor soon realises that talking about her feelings helps to keep her anxieties in perspective. I like that the novel focuses on mental health and the importance of talking to friends and family or seeking professional help when your worries become too much to bear on your own.
Another major theme in the novel is loneliness. The novel illustrates how easy it is to end up all by yourself and what damaging effects it has on those that have no one to talk to. It reminded me of how important it is to value my relationships and to reach out to those who feel lonely or isolated.
5. Eleanor is fine
Throughout the novel, Eleanor constantly affirms that she is all right.
But it’s only at the end of the novel that I start to believe her. I’m not sure that she is completely fine but she’s getting there.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine reminds us of the importance of showing patience, empathy and love to the people we come into contact with every day as we never know their stories or what they’ve been through.
“…sometimes you’re too quick to judge people. There are all kinds of reasons why they might not look like the kind of person you’d want to sit next to on a bus, but you can’t sum someone up in a ten-second glance. That’s simply not enough time.”
So maybe we should spend a bit more time talking to strangers (through Skype or other electronic means for the time being) or at the very least not make hasty judgements about the people we meet.