A profound yet witty story about loneliness, and how people choose to cope with it.
Winner of the Costa Book Award 2018, and a longlist nominee for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is Honeyman’s debut novel that has struck many a hearts with its honest writing and a character so real, that one wonders what took the author so long to pen down a novel so brilliant in its entirety.
Eleanor is in her 30s, living a life that consists of just her and maybe a pot plant at home she often talks to. She has been working as a finance clerk in a graphic design company for 9 years now, with no friends or colleagues to pass time with. Her only solace is crossword puzzles and weekends spent with a bottle of vodka and Tesco pizzas. If monotony had a name, it would be Eleanor. She is socially awkward, and doesn’t understand ‘small talk’ or other niceties. Always the subject of jokes by her colleagues, Eleanor is often regarded as the ‘weirdo’.
“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? “
Eleanor develops a huge crush on a pop singer she sees in a concert, and decides that he’s the one for her. The singer is far from what Eleanor imagines him to be, and is a terrible singer with no respect for others whatsoever. She then goes to many lengths to change her appearance, so that their chance meeting could be memorable. Eleanor starts obsessing over the singer like a high-school teenager, and follows him around on social media. Her concept of what’s real and imaginary is blurred.
One fine day, she helps an old man who fell down in the middle of the road. She along with Raymond, the IT guy in her office, take it upon themselves to rescue the old man. This particular act of kindness opens doors for her, leading her to several other connections, and possibly towards a life Eleanor had always imagined. She has to break down the walls she’s constructed around her, and for the first time in forever, feel and experience things from a different perspective.
Although Eleanor is a loner, she speaks with her mother on the phone on Wednesday nights. Her ‘mummy’ lives somewhere far, and is a terrible mother who projects all her anger and rage at her daughter. Eleanor has spent her childhood in foster homes, and has always missed having a family. Eleanor doesn’t know where her mummy is but all she knows is that it’s a ‘bad place’.
The question then arises; why is Eleanor so lonely? The past is unravelled slowly with each chapter, and you’re able to understand the reason behind this isolation. Eleanor has had a troubled past, where she had been abused both mentally and physically throughout her life. While in university, she was in an abusive relationship with a man, who would punch and rape her. Her low self-esteem and social anxiety pinpoint to years of emotional trauma and lack of love. She lives with a scar on her face, after having survived a third degree burn in her childhood. This invited bullying in school, and everywhere she went. Eleanor has learnt how to survive. Living, however, is still alien to her
“Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.’
Never before has loneliness been narrated in such a heartbreaking way. Humans have various coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with loneliness. Eleanor, on the other hand, tells herself she’s completely fine. She embodies all of us, who are hiding under the garb of ‘work’ or ‘meetings’ or ‘parties’ to avoid being left alone with nothing but our thoughts; hoping that one day, the burden we’re carrying deep inside would be lifted and we could feel free again.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and laughter, and subtle jibes at the bleak lives some humans live. It is as much about loneliness as it is about hope and the chance to love.
“There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher: HarperCollins India
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 life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?