Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was one of those books I kept hearing about, over and over again, all of the previous year. I didn’t bother looking into it took much, in fact, I wasn’t even sure I would ever be reading it. But then people kept saying it was so good, I decided that I might. And during my trip to London, I just decided to grab it in print in one of the local bookshops. Full price too, which isn’t typical of me.
At this point, I still didn’t quite know what it was about, cause Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one of those books that’s really hard to describe to someone if they haven’t actually read it yet. Little did I know that this would be a book that will make me cry, break me and fix me again, and make me feel better about my own shortcomings and mental health. Eleanor Oliphant is an unforgettable character and this is an unforgettable book that I will treasure always. I am happy to say that this was a buddy read with two of my blogger friends, Gayathri @ Elgee Writes and Sim @ Flipping Through the Pages, who will be asking me questions about Eleanor today and I’ll be answering them. You can also see their answers to my questions on their blogs – here’s Gayathri’s post, and here is Sim’s.
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★★★★★ 5 stars
Eleanor Oliphant had a tough childhood. In fact, we don’t really know what it was that made her the way it is, but we know it’s big – so big that the police hid her safely away from the prying eyes of the media. So big, that Eleanor has had to lie to herself about what happened all those years ago. You see, it’s not just us who don’t know. It’s Eleanor as well.
But Eleanor is completely fine! Of course, there’s the whole business of her coworkers constantly bullying her and misunderstanding every little thing she does. There the little thing of Eleanor buying two huge vodkas every Friday night to make it through the lonely weekend. There’s her mother, calling her every week, when she’d rather just be left alone.
But all of that is fine, because Eleanor has a plan. She’s met the love of her life, and she will make everything alright again. And if it doesn’t work, she will jam that square peg into the round hole no matter what. And if ugly things start coming out, she will make them go away. Plans always work out. Don’t they..?
Sim: Eleanor is an unlikable character in the beginning. It’s not often that we meet such people in daily life. She is one of the oddest characters I’ve ever read about. But as the story progresses, we start connecting with her and understanding her better. Why do you think it is so? Why do we feel connected to her although we can’t relate to her on so many levels? Or if you think you resemble her in some way, would you share how?
Oh yes, Eleanor starts out as an incredibly unlikable character – but despite that, I feel like most readers will fall in love with her nonetheless? I certainly did. Another odd thing is that Eleanor is VERY relatable, despite being so… incredibly odd. At first, I thought it was only myself, but then I spoke to Sim and Gayathri, and they both said they felt the same! I think that out of us three, I actually bear most resemblance to Eleanor (tough childhood, all sorts of health problems that alienated me from my colleagues, and I have also worked in a place where they completely misunderstood everything I did. Also, I AM a bit weird!) But that still wouldn’t explain why by reading buddies could relate to Eleanor so well too! I think that as a character, she’s built in a way where her ‘weirdness’ will help the reader recall experiences where they were misunderstood or acted differently, and felt odd about it. So what if Eleanor has those moments more often – we all have them now and again, and they are squirmy, memorable instances, most of the time. I think that’s why Eleanor is so relatable!
Then, there’s another thing. You can’t help but feel sorry about her, because you can imagine WHY she’s like that, although you don’t know for sure, and you can’t help being angry at all those people for not being at least a little more understanding towards her. Eleanor is a very compassion-evoking character to read about. She brings out all the ‘nurture and protect‘ instincts in you, as you read!Eleanor Oliphant is incredibly relatable, although she's very odd – cause she helps us remember all the moments WE felt the odd one out. She is also a very compassion-evoking character, which makes the reader fall for her despite… Click To Tweet
Gayathri: Eleanor Oliphant has no friends as such. Her workmates make little or no effort to understand or befriend her. If you were one of them, what could you have done to make her life a little better?
A GIF of a sad little kitten
This is a hard topic to talk about for me, cause I was this person once. I was Eleanor in one of my workplaces. Every little thing that I did ‘the odd way’ (mostly because of my health) was frowned upon, sometimes gently mocked. My inability to participate in out of work activities – either due to my health, or just because I’m sorry but not everyone wants to bungee jump off a building, basically, okay? – was always interpreted as ‘she doesn’t want to be friends with us’, or even worse, ‘she’s boring and not cool / a pussy / not normal’ – which would often be said to my face (does anyone else here think that it’s completely normal to NOT want to do extreme sports..? Or team sports with big guys when I’m the smallest person I know? Anyone..? I still fail to get why I was so abnormal not to want to get hurt..?) Not only that, I was often bullied because I was sensitive, because I had a fear of phone calls. Because I chose to bring lunches and not waste two thirds of my (very meager at that time) salary on daily lunches out. So you see, I WAS Eleanor. I can’t say what I would have done to help her feel better in a place like that, because I WAS her. But I can say that if people were less judgy, especially because of health or mental health related matters, it would have been so much easier for me. All it takes is compassion. Actually, all it takes is to drop the high school mentality that a lot of workplaces still operate on. If you treat everyone with respect, everything will be better. For everyone involved. Rule #1 in life: JUST DON’T BE A DICK TO PEOPLE!
Gayathri: Eleanor chooses a random guy she doesn’t know as her future spouse, her ‘fate’. What do you think made her fall for this particular guy, especially when she had no other relationships prior to compare it with? I mean, she is unconventional, even by her own words, but why did she feel that she had to follow this societal rule?
A GIF of the Cinderella and the prince dancing, from the Disney animated movie
Why do we all? Because it’s the general narrative – get married, have kids, be happy. That’s always the happy ending in any fairytale, isn’t it? When you’re as unhappy as Eleanor, you start looking for solutions desperately, and at this point, Eleanor was at the end of her wits. So she chooses to uproot herself and change everything the only way she knows how – the only way she’s ever been told. The only way that brings a happy ending – finding a guy who looks like a good bet and seeing what happens next.
Gayathri: In comparison, there’s Raymond – the friendly workmate who falls under Eleanor’s standards. Do you think Raymond being a non-typical guy helped him handle her better? Did it matter at all? Would it have been any different if he was a normal “cool” guy?
Also a complicated question. Who knows? If Raymond was a typical cool guy, perhaps he would have never even talked to Eleanor. Perhaps he would have been among the workplace bullies. Or maybe not – there can be kind and popular, good looking guys too. If he was like that, perhaps they would have still met, but then Eleanor could have reacted to him very differently. I think Eleanor and Raymond only became friends because Eleanor was simply herself around him. She had no expectations of him, so she didn’t have to pretend of stress herself out. Raymond is one of my favorite characters – people like that could save the world, if there were more of them. I could write a whole book about how much I loved Raymond, probably, so let’s not let me get carried away!
Sim: This novel is a mix of humour and a darker plot. There were some thought-provoking sections, like Eleanor’s relationship with money. She was always highly conscious about how much she spends and is not willing to pay for social occasions etc. But since she has no one else to take care of her, I think it made sense that she was keen on safeguarding her personal finances. What do you think about this? Also, do you think Raymond’s introduction into her life changed her views on a lot of things?
Again, I was Eleanor. I guess all that bit about relating to her actually comes from me being a lot like her, huh? Well, I was poor growing up, and I was a poor teen, and a poor young person. What’s worse, when I started out my first jobs (read: pays next to nothing), my mom lost her job. And never found one again. And my dad, well, let’s say he was not in the picture. Part of why I was always thought of as so weird at my work that I mentioned a few questions back, was also because I was meticulously careful with my money. People can be super cold about that, but you literally need to watch every little cent to survive in some situations, and eventually, that grows into a constant fear and vigilance even when you’re not as poor anymore. This is precisely what Eleanor was doing, and I could see it so well, I could remember it so well. I can’t believe how accurately Gail Honeyman has written so, so many things! This is just one of them.The problems Eleanor is having in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine are written so masterfully and incredibly accurately. Just one of the reasons it's a 5 star book! Read more: Click To Tweet
And yes, of course, Raymond is the axis of change in Eleanor’s story. He is the one that facilitates a lot of change – even though she’s sort of making the change to make herself ‘presentable’ to her crush, but really, it’s Raymond who changes all the deep things in her day to day life. I think before Raymond, Eleanor never had anyone to talk to and compare her own judgements and actions to those of someone else’s – especially how it feels to be treated a certain way by Raymond and how her own actions would make others feels. These are things that most people learn in childhood or their teens – and yet, Eleanor had no way to learn these things. She had no one to learn from. So with Raymond, Eleanor is maturing into the person she was always meant to be.
Sim: Throughout the book, there is a mystery about Eleanor’s mother. Off course, in the end, the mystery is resolved. Do you think this twist was necessary for the overall growth of the story? The ending we expected for Eleanor arrives eventually, so don’t you think this mystery angle was tiresome to stretch out till the very end?
No, I think the mystery was absolutely necessary. A little background for those who haven’t read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – we don’t really know much about Eleanor’s past throughout most of the book. We keep guessing, but we only really find out at the very end. Which is a wonderful thing, in my opinion – because it lets the reader guess at what truly happened, and it lets them draw their own conclusions. I didn’t find it tiresome – on the contrary, I found that it helped build tension and meaning in the story. Without this mystery, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine would have lost a lot of its unique angle.
I always thought it would be a hard review to write – and I admit, answering the questions of my friends was an easy way out! I have so much more to say about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but for me, with how many things I actually had in common with Eleanor, reading it was a very personal experience. It was painful and cleansing, and yet it was funny. It’s one of those books that ultimately changed how I felt about a lot of things in my own past and how I looked at my own self. It’s one of the most important books personally that I’ve read in the past five years or so. If you’ve ever struggled with mental health, if you’ve ever felt different or singled out, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine might also be a book that speaks to your very soul. If not – it will still most likely make you both laugh and cry, and will leave your heart full after you’ve finished reading it. Needless to say that I think this is an absolute must-read.If you've ever struggled with #mentalhealth, felt different or singled out, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will speak to your very soul. If not – it will still make you both laugh and cry and leave your heart full after you've… Click To Tweet
So have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? Have you met anyone yet who absolutely begged you to read it? (If not, consider that to be me!!! You must!!) And perhaps you know some similar books, if you’ve already read it?
I’m Evelina and I blog about books that made an impression on me. I love middle grade, women’s, scifi and some literary too.