“An outstanding debut about loneliness and the power of a little kindness“Mail on Sunday
We all have moments where we wonder what’s the point? We’re on the hamster wheel of life, running around day in and day out, pushing our boundaries to attempt to get somewhere but often it feels we are stuck. Frozen in the same place as yesterday which makes us question, well everything.
I received the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine as a birthday present and felt obligated to read it, and am I glad I did.
From the teaser on the back, I knew there was more to this story. I felt like the explanation of Eleanor was describing parts of me and I had to delve deeper.
“Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything…”
She is an average woman, trying to fit into the mold society has built, but at the same time she doesn’t really care for society and what it thinks of her. She is not a busy body trying to fit in with Instagram posts and she doesn’t go out of her way to disrupt her weekly routine of work, a simple dinner on Fridays and vodka on the weekends.
There is an Eleanor in most workplaces: the bland, plastic bag- clutching, slightly strange person who scurries away from all collective activities. They rarely speak or say a word that isn’t about the matter in hand and there’s a lot of speculation around their personal life.
“I aspire to average… I’ve been the focus of far too much attention in my time. Pass me over, move along please, nothing to see here.”Page 30
As you read, you start to wonder is Eleanor Oliphant completely fine?
Why I’d recommend you read this book
“I adored it. Skilled, perceptive, Eleanor’s world will feel familiar to you from the very first page. An outstanding debut!”Joanna Cannon
Although a work of fiction, Eleanor deals with a lot of new scenarios which we’ve all encountered at some stage or we are yet to, and it is refreshing to read how someone closed off to the world generally, goes about these experiences.
- Close to the end of chapter 2, after Eleanor discovered Johnnie Lomond who is the lead singer of a band, she appears to be head over heels for him and went to buy a computer so she could further research him (might sound creepy but we’ve all Facebook stalked someone, don’t lie)
- The start of chapter 3 delves into Eleanor’s new obsession, for the lack of a better word, with Johnnie Lomond. She questions why it has happened now and why with him, and this made me feel like I wasn’t the only one thinking about these things life often throws at us.
- We all have struggles with our parents. Be it a difference in opinion or just being stubborn we all have moments where we think, you can choose your friends but not your family.
The first half of the book is more of a light-hearted take on Eleanor’s life. There are many moments you laugh along as you read how she interacts and approaches people.
Eleanor Oliphant comes across very anti-social and socially awkward. She is peculiar, blunt and unintentionally funny which makes this book remarkably original. There are lots of things in this world we just accept because it’s just what it is, but Eleanor questions these things which made me also wonder why we just do what we do.
A great example in the book is where she orders a pizza as take away for the first time, and questions how she would get the black pepper she is after on it.
“I wondered how they managed with the black pepper. Would the man bring a pepper mill with him? Surely, he wouldn’t grind it over the pizza while he stood on the doorstep?”Page 21
She finds it difficult to follow social standards and the way things are done which we see as normal. For instance, when she goes to Starbucks, she doesn’t want to give the barista her name due to privacy reasons and later in the book another character goes to give her a high five and she doesn’t know how to. Hilarious to some of us, relatable to others.
Her complete obscurity to pop culture also proves interesting and laughable – literally.
“It had crossed my mind that I ought to ready myself physically for a potential meeting with the musician by making a few improvements.”Page 13
In pursuit of Johnnie Lomond, she explores new horizons and opens herself to the world; one we might know very well, but for Eleanor it is all too new, and it makes for some funny occurrences.
She’s never paid too much attention to herself and now she wants to get a bikini wax done and changes her clothes, wears make up and gets her hair done. It might sound like nothing, but I’m sure we’ve all been in a position where we liked someone so much that we went to some extremes to be the type they would like.
We get a good cry out of it
In real life we know life is tough. We live in a world filled with all sorts of challenges and often we can relate to other people’s struggles in movies, music or books. This certainly happens when we learn more about Eleanor’s life and the way she grew up, the way she deals with her mother and her putting Eleanor down and the struggles she dealt with in her first and only relationship with an abusive boyfriend.
To deal with the silence she has a weekly catch up phone call with her mother, who is suggested to be in a mental institution for reasons unknown, but often after their phone call poor Eleanor feels worse than before.
There is quite a twist at the end which I won’t spoil, but the ending ensures Eleanor is fine, but you as the reader, maybe not so much.
Fantastic Character Development
Eleanor Oliphant comes across very anti-social and awkward. The way she was brought up gave her an unwavering belief that she doesn’t have any friends because it is others who lack an understanding of following social cues.
From being the quiet, bland, plastic bag- clutching weird lady working in an office, Eleanor goes through a transformation through the book to find her own feet, to learn about love and what it should be and to deal with her past without her mother blurring her judgement.
Eleanor learned to survive life but not live it.
She becomes friends with the IT guy in the office, Raymond, and later with the gentleman they help after an accident and his family and realises there’s more to life than she thought. She learns that she can lean on other people who care for her like Raymond, instead of drowning her sorrows with too much alcohol and too many pills.
In the end dear old Eleanor feels like she has crept into your heart because you have built a relationship with her from the start of the book, and you feel relieved once you know she will be okay.
Importance of kindness
The book emphasises the idea of how small acts of kindness can completely change someone’s life.
From helping a man who fell started a new friendship, to how that man’s daughter made Eleanor feel better about herself by offering to give her a simple haircut, the kindness shown to others through the book made me think that we too should adopt that way of living more as we all deal with struggles daily.
There is an incredibly touching moment when Eleanor is sent flowers by her work colleagues closer to the end of the book which reminded me that even though a kind gesture might be small, it does not have to be insignificant. It will count as something for someone else and we should do it more often.
Themes of Mental Health
Eleanor’s twisted sense of self-worth and volatile grasp on reality demonstrates the lasting impact of abuse and trauma.
Through her counselling sessions and what she infers from the session, she learns to take ownership of her emotions and, even if subconsciously, we relate to this as it’s easy to push things aside, deal with them later, yell at someone else because we feel shitty.
Then when it’s too late and all these things rush back, it’s a lot to deal with so take a stance, face it upfront and know there is always someone willing to help.
Themes of loneliness
“People sometimes say they might die of boredom, that they’re dying for a cup of tea, but for me, dying of loneliness is not hyperbole. When I feel like that, my head drops and my shoulders slump and I ache, I physically ache, for human contact – I truly feel that I might tumble to the ground and pass away if someone doesn’t hold me, touch me. I don’t mean a lover – this recent madness aside, I had long since given up on any notion that another person might love me that way – but simply as a human being.”Page 269/270
The book and Eleanor’s life gives an accurate, enthralling and beautiful description of what loneliness might feel like.
While most depictions of loneliness we see surround older people, in this book the protagonist is a 30-year-old woman with no social life and the only conversation she has on the weekend is with her houseplant, Polly.
“When the silence and aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving me like ice, I need to speak aloud sometimes, if only for proof of life.”Page 56/57
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is completely brilliant. It’s filled with humour and it’s a mix of heart-warming moments as well as heartbreaking ones. Overall, it’s an inspiring book filled with relatable moments and originality plus the good moral to always be kind.
It is a good read with a realistic take on loneliness, dealing with childhood trauma, survival, and mental health.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a must read.
If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, or you are struggling with mental health, please know you can reach out to have a chat.
You can get in touch with Lifeline over the phone or online who has qualified counsellors available 24 hours a day. You can call on 13 11 14 or chat with online.