Cbr12bingo Book Club
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine begins with the premise of many a romantic comedy but takes the reader into serious and unexpected territory. Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, which garnered numerous awards, tells the story of 30-year-old Eleanor from her unique and often hilarious point of view as she plans to win over the man of her dreams. Yet Eleanor’s romantic aspirations are only a small part of this entertaining and thought-provoking novel which examines depression, abuse, and the power of true friendship.
Eleanor has spent the last nine years of her life, since her graduation from university, as an office worker at a small graphic design company. Despite her longevity at the same firm, she has no friends to speak of, and we figure out from her descriptions of the work environment that Eleanor is considered an oddball by her co-workers. Eleanor’s lack of friendship is of no concern to her. Her internal monologue, which is on display throughout the novel, reveals her own very critical (often funny) evaluations of her colleagues’ appearances, smells, tastes and productivity. No one really is up to snuff and Eleanor is constantly amazed by other people’s lack of manners. What we realize, however, is that Eleanor is frequently clueless about basic social interactions. She has some rather pronounced tendencies toward Asperger Syndrome, in my opinion. Her remarks to people, while well intentioned, can be quite rude and she truly does not understand that. She is also a creature of habit, with little changing in her life from day to day, week to week, year to year. We do learn that on the weekends, her great delight is in visiting Tesco on a Friday to purchase her pizza and Glen’s vodka, which allow her to get through her weekends completely alone.
Eleanor’s routine is upset by two major events — one of her own design and one that is accidental. After seeing a local rock singer named Johnnie Lomond, Eleanor determines that this handsome man is meant to be with her. The problem, of course, is that they have never met. Undaunted, Eleanor decides to make this happen and develops a plan involving a total make-over of herself (clothes, hair, make-up), as well as the purchase of a computer and phone so that she can follow Johnnie on social media. It gets a little creepy as Eleanor borderline stalks this guy, but she does seem to know when to stop herself. The other event, the accidental one, happens one Friday after work as she stands outside her workplace alongside IT guy Raymond. Raymond is a bit of a slob in Eleanor’s eyes, and he smokes, but when Raymond sees an older man fall on the street he leaps into action to help him, dragging Eleanor along for assistance. Thus begins the unexpected relationship between Eleanor, Raymond and Sammy, which will have great impact on Eleanor.
Eleanor’s past and her relationship with her mother complicate her relationships with Raymond, Sammy and Johnnie. Too much detail about this would spoil the story but we do know that Eleanor’s weekly calls with her mother are tense and unwelcome. We don’t know where her mother is, but we know that her mother did bad things to Eleanor as a child, that Eleanor spent time in foster care from a young age, and that she carries both physical and emotional scars because of her mother. The cause and the extent of the damage done is unraveled in the second part of the novel called “Bad Days,” and it might be triggering for anyone who has endured abuse, depression and thoughts of self harm. As sad and tragic as these issues are, Honeyman does an absolutely beautiful job of depicting Eleanor’s state of mind as she comes to terms with her past, herself and the people in her current life.
This is a wonderful novel. In Eleanor, we find a complicated, funny, sympathetic, even powerful young woman who is more capable of change than she might have ever imagined. Not gonna lie, this one made me cry. It’s a perfect reminder of how important friendship and human contact are to each and every one of us, and how much harm can be done when we find ourselves without them.