“Time only blunts the pain of loss. It doesn’t erase it.”
I wasn’t immediately charmed by Eleanor Oliphant, but she completely won me over. Eleanor is a woman on her own, and she does just fine living her life alone, thank you very much. She comes across as awkward and prickly, but beneath the surface she longs for relationships more than she’ll let herself believe. But it’s hard to let anyone in when, beneath your hard exterior, you’re battling against a plethora of issues, from childhood trauma to suppressed grief to raging pain. As long as she adheres to her rigid schedule and keeps everyone at arms length, she can ignore the emotions churning within her. And if she keeps herself mildly drunk over the weekends, she can pretend that she’s completely fine.
One day, she spies the man of her dreams and embarks on a mission to make herself into the kind of woman he notices. Along the way, Eleanor meets people and forms friendships that she didn’t realize she desperately needed. As she changes, old wounds are ripped open. Is a new outlook on life worth the pain it brings?
“Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are.”
This is a book I had come across in the past, but didn’t strike me as the type of book that could maintain my interest. But after having read and loved A Man Called Ove, I decided to give it a try since I’ve seen it recommended to fans of Ove’s story. That was a very prudent recommendation, and I very much enjoyed my time with Eleanor. Like Ove, her story mingles laughter and heartache in a way that is very endearing. I didn’t enjoy Eleanor quite as much as I did Ove, because there were a few scenes that felt contrived and unnecessarily awkward for the sake of eliciting a laugh instead of being central to the plot. Besides that, I found Honeyman’s debut novel compelling and engaging. There was an air of mystery to the story that I very much enjoyed, and I deeply empathized with Eleanor as she faced her past, feeling both her pain and relief as things finally came to light. The character of Mummy is one of the most disturbing I’ve come across outside of the horror genre, and made me intensely thankful for my own mother.
“I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine, but she’s getting there. Honeyman did a wonderful job on her characterization of Eleanor, as well as with the supporting cast. Eleanor has a strong and unique voice that made her a pleasure to read, and very sympathetic as her life took her directions she hadn’t anticipated. I also think that Honeyman did a magnificent job of demonstrating how the mind deals with trauma, and how that varies from person to person. Eleanor’s story is also a brilliant reminder that everyone needs connections with other people, no matter how convinced they are that they’re fine alone. Our relationships are what keep us human; without them we are automatons, merely going about our routines instead of truly living.
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–-a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
If you’re a fan of contemporary fiction, especially books like A Man Called Ove that somehow manage to be funny and heartbreaking on the same page, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a book that you should pick up, if you haven’t already done so. It’s sad and sweet and funny, and Eleanor’s journey will make the world seem just a little bit brighter.
“In the end, what matters is this: I survived.”
You can purchase a copy of the book here, with free shipping worldwide!