Rating: 4 Stars
Some books make you think long and hard about what you want to say about them, and it seems impossible to find the words to do them justice. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, is one such book. It made me laugh with its wit and sarcasm, while making me sad at the same time. The mark of a good book is that it makes you think and doesn’t leave you even after you have finished reading it. This is one of those books.
Eleanor Oliphant has no friends, no social skills, and no ambition. She says whatever comes into her mind without any filters, and sarcasm comes as naturally to her as breathing. Her life is fine and she doesn’t know that there is something better than just “fine”. She has had the same job for the last nine years, and she has no plans of going anywhere. Then one day, she sees the man she knows she is destined to marry, and decides to change things so that she can have the family she always wanted.
Alas, her computer decides to give up on her the next day, and she meets Raymond, an unkempt, unfit, smoker with no sense of dressing. Eleanor is ready to forget about him and carry on with her plans, when an old man, Sammy, collapses on the street and Eleanor and Raymond help get him to the hospital. This starts a chain of events that take Eleanor on a completely different path and change her life forever.
Raymond, with his casual clothes, running shoes, and cigarette stink, is the first person to befriend Eleanor and show her how it takes just one good friend to turn your life from fine, to better than fine. Raymond’s kindness and friendship lead Eleanor to finally face the demons she has been running from and realize that she too can move forward in the world.
Eleanor’s struggles with becoming “normal” are what provide the biggest laughs, as does her vocabulary, which is so extensive that I had to look up a few of the words myself. Her way of talking and explaining things left me reeling most of the time. The sarcasm is cutting and on point; and her exasperation with the human race in general, amusing. I think Eleanor Oliphant may well become one of my favourite fictional characters.
However, all through the book you can feel the spectre of Eleanor’s past and how it has shaped her, and you cannot help but feel heavy-hearted. You feel sad for this girl raised in foster homes, with no family to turn to. She doesn’t have any social graces because she wasn’t taught any. There was no one to tell her how to be social, or how to make friends, or even how to expect better from her life. She has some deep scars, both physical and psychological, that have never been healed.
Even with all the baggage, once you get to know her, you cannot help but like her. With her, what you see is what you get. As she interacts with Raymond, Raymond’s mom, Sammy, Sammy’s family and her office colleagues, she realizes that she too can have a life that is better than “fine”. She is after all Eleanor Oliphant and she is a survivor.
An enjoyable, emotional book. A must-read in my opinion.