Rarely have I connected so quickly with or so desperately wanted happiness for someone as I did with Eleanor Oliphant. Despite her odd manner and the many funny (laugh out loud whilst reading on the bus funny) interactions she has with people around her, it was easy see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the debut novel of author Gail Honeyman and tells the story of a young woman who works in an office in Glasgow. Eleanor is set in her ways; she goes to work each day, gets the same meal deal for lunch, and buys a margherita pizza each Friday along with two bottles of vodka which she then drinks over the course of the weekend. Without really realising it, Eleanor is crying out for connection and friendship even though she thinks she is doing completely fine. Despite her strange manner and the funny and awkward interactions she has with the people around her, it is easy from the very beginning see through the odd quirks and behaviours to someone who is a little lost and really just needs a little help and, as such, I found Eleanor to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve read about in a long time.
Throughout the book an unusual upbringing is hinted at, suggesting that Eleanor’s childhood experiences have had a huge impact on the woman she is today and the difficulties she faces in social situations, but more than anything the book is a fantastic commentary on the devastating effects of loneliness and how it can affect anyone at any age. When we talk about loneliness the conversation tends to revolve around the elderly, however it seems like there are more and more young people that are suffering from loneliness and crippling social anxiety, despite there being more channels of communication than we have ever had before. I suspect I am not the only person who felt some striking similarities with Eleanor’s situation in the opening pages, and the book perfectly demonstrates how small gestures and displays of kindness by others can make such a difference.
One of the things I love about this book is that it’s just about the genuine human connections and friendships Eleanor realises she has. It’s not about grand romances or drama or being special, it is just about Eleanor finding people who accept her in a normal, everyday world.
I don’t want to say too much about the book, I went into it with very little knowledge of the plot, and think I enjoyed it all the more for that. What I will say is that this is a truly heartwarming (and at times heartbreaking) read that will stay with you for a very long time and every person I have spoken to about it or recommended it to has said the exact same thing.
Speaking of loneliness, I thought I would share one of my favourite performances of Robin Williams, a clip I watch often when I’m feeling lonely and one that is more poignant than ever given what has now passed:
“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”
“You can’t have too much dog in a book.”
“You’ve made me shiny, Laura,” I said. I tried to stop it, but a little tear ran down the side of my nose. I wiped it away with the back of my hand before it could dampen the ends of my new hair. “Thank you for making me shiny.” – This quote broke my heart a little bit.
“I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”