Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – a book of self discovery and hope

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

Rarely has a novel told completely from the viewpoint of the major character has been so revealing. Eleanor leaves out no details, or at least in her eyes. The reader, however, is left to ask the questions that she does not address in this careful account of her life, the major questions of why she is so obsessive, so repetitive, so busy living on her own in every sense. The famous twists, the revelations about how she has got to this point – nine years of working in an office, rarely having conversations beyond the tasks in front of her, attending so few social events that she can break them down into minute by minute expreiences. Buying only necessary food from a small Tesco, drinking exactly two bottles of vodka every weekend, which she spends strictly alone. Few distractions beyond a daily crossword. A single plant which has survived. Second hand furniture. Clothed for comfort with no regard for age or style. Some of the quotes from this book are just too painful, but one sums up this desperately honest book “I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the problem of me”. This powerful tale of a woman who discovers so much about herself and life is a disturbing picture of contemporary life in many ways, but profoundly and beautifully written.

 

This is a book which opens with statements concerning Eleanor’s life. She says things which take the reader by surprise, such as casually remarking on the obvious injuries she had when she had her job interview.  The interruptions from her mother on a Wednesday evening reveal hints of the past and a bitter nasty person who has obviously had a negative effect on Eleanor’s life. Eleanor begins to explore other elements of life, often because of her obsession with “the musician”. She also becomes involved in visiting an elderly man when she assists him after he collapses in front of her and Raymond from her office. She jointly cares with Raymond for the old man in a surprisingly positive development, and in doing so is forced out of her normal way of life, being exposed to new friendships of a type. Things seem to be improving, but Eleanor will have “Bad Days” as well as “Good Days”.

 

This book is an honest look at her life, and some of Eleanor’s issues will be amusing and always compelling. Her favourite book is apparently “Jane Eyre”, the tale of another woman who records her journey to self discovery and more. The issue of loneliness and a limited life seems a very contemporary one, and this is well handled in this beautifully written novel. It points out that small acts of kindness can be life changing for not only the recipient, but also for Eleanor as she tries so hard. This can be a challenging book, but it is so well written that it demands more than sympathy, it is fascinating portrait of a woman on the edge of life. It more than deserves its popularity as a look at life that is not all bleak, but with much to recommend it in terms of hope.

 

I did wonder about putting a review of this book on the blog at the moment, as it is not the most cheerful. It does include elements of hope, though, and shows that development and improvement are possible. It certainly gave us a good opportunity for discussion when we looked at this book in our book group several months ago. I thought it would make a change from some of the lighter fiction on here, and is probably quite easy to get hold of, which is a factor in choosing books for the Bookworms!