I first began reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman a few months ago. I used it to past the time on my commute to work, but alas, university was stressful, and I felt guilty for reading anything other than boring journal articles. Once I began to read it again this week, it was completed in two days. I just could not put it down. Dealing with themes of loneliness, the importance of friendship, abuse (both physical and mental) and alcoholism, this book has you both running for the tissues one page and then smiling the next.
DISCLOSURE: This article will contain spoilers, read on at your own risk!
Eleanor Oliphant lives her life in a cyclical routine. She goes to work Monday to Friday and gets a weekly phone call from her mother on a Wednesday. She goes the whole weekend without speaking to anyone and copes by drinking Vodka. Her routine never differs and she never asks her social worker for the truth behind the fire which caused the burns on her body. One day, she became acquainted with Raymond and her life changed for the better. He suggested she seek medical help and then the truth behind her past and her scars is revealed from her subconscious.
Initially I found this book hard to get into. The monotonous of each chapter mimicked the monotonous life of Eleanor Oliphant. However, as the book progressed it became clear that Honeyman was sophisticatedly revealing dribs and draps of Eleanors past, just as she was beginning to learn about what happened to her.
Eleanor has lived through two abusive relationships in her life. First, the abuse she experienced from her mother as a child and secondly, the domestic abuse from her partner at university. Because of this she has led a sheltered life. She doesn’t have any friends and even her mother whom she speaks to on the phone, is later revealed to be a figment of her imagination. Eleanor is extremely lonely, and this is made clear when her friendship with Raymond opens her horizons to a life full of healthy human interaction.
Maybe it was just me but I initially didn’t second guess why she spent all her free time alone drinking vodka. Perhaps this was because we are seeing the world through Eleanor’s eyes. It wasn’t until Raymond began to explain the world to her, that I realised, hang on, this woman is struggling. The book was extremely well written, depicting the message that sometimes people don’t know to ask for help. It is always worth checking on the person that says nothing.
One of the main aims of counselling is to reveal and confront any childhood trauma a person might have. In the second half of this book, we follow Eleanor on her journey to begin to confront her past. This results in her uncovering the truth behind the fire that she almost died in. It is revealed that her mother caused the fire killing both herself and Eleanors younger sister, leaving young Eleanor to be passed around the care system.
Now, at thirty years old, she is diagnosed with depression. Honeyman writing this novel in this era I think is so important. People don’t always realise that you can be suffering from events that happened years ago. Phrases such as ‘you need to move on’ are applied and I think this novel perfectly highlights the importance of receiving essential help with dealing with your emotions after a traumatic event.
Despite Eleanor Oliphant coming across as rude, she is overall a misunderstood person. Thoughout the book I grew to love her and empathise with her. She never had a normal upbringing and therefore never developed a normal outlook of the world. In some ways I thought her to be rather childlike and innocent, which only led to me sympathising with her more.
Loneliness is a huge issue in the world and it does not discriminate. Within this book, loneliness is depicted as the result of childhood trauma, however this isn’t the only cause to loneliness. This book has opened my mind to pay particular attention to those around me. If Raymond hadn’t persisted with Eleanor, then she wouldn’t have received the help she needed, and perhaps she would’ve remained lonely and in distress her whole life.
I hoped you’ve enjoyed my review of Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. I highly recommend reading it.
Want to read more book reviews by me?
I’ve written a review of Psychotraveller’s first book Where is she?: Travel To Trauma: One Woman’s Journey To Completely Losing Herself. An auto-biographical account of a successful YouTube stars psychological journey through a difficult time in her life.
I’ve also written a review of the bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. Telling the true account of the Tattooist of Aushwitz, this story shows how hope can shine through even in the worst places.