Well, here it is folks – the book I wish I’d written. Unfortunately, Gail Honeyman wrote it, but it’s probably for the best as she has introduced me to one of the most original, funny and endearing characters I have ever read. Eleanor Oliphant is in survival mode and does a pretty good imitation of someone living a normal life, while keeping human interaction to a minimum. Her weekends are endured with the help of three bottles of vodka, spread evenly over the two days until she returns to her office job on Monday morning. It is this insular existence that has kept her safe all of her adult life, yet this carefully constructed routine of frugal living and eschewing all social contact changes on the night she sees local musician Johnnie Lomond.
Haven’t we all formed an irrational crush on some idiot we never even met?! ‘The one’, who will elevate our lives from ordinary to fabulous, if only we could engineer some way of meeting them…. It is this unlikely objective that inspires Eleanor to change trajectory and pursue a ‘normal’ life.
“The goal,” she says, “was successful camouflage as a human woman.” Cue trips to the beautician for a bikini wax (“candle wax?”), and a plethora of other beautifying techniques which create the perfect opportunity for Eleanor’s uniquely witty view on what is acceptable behaviour for most thirty-somethings. This also coincides with a chance meeting with the IT guy, Raymond who frankly, is no Johnnie Lomond. His one redeeming feature, however, is his persistence in including Eleanor in his social circle, something that perplexes her no end.
I have read reviews describing Eleanor as a socially awkward oddball and I suppose you could say that, but taking into account the worldwide success of the book (Reese Witherspoon has just optioned the film rights) doesn’t it translate that we can all identify with Eleanor? Most of us have, by osmosis, learned a kind of social shorthand that sees us through most situations. But that does not mean that we don’t feel isolated, out of place or alone. I think the greatest ailment of the modern age is loneliness; this, despite the fact that we are constantly sharing and connecting in ways that were never possible before. And I believe it is this fundamental malaise that Honeyman’s novel addresses in such a poignant way.
Yet despite dealing with themes that could overwhelm the story with sadness, Eleanor’s lack of social skills and an appropriate filter, create some of the most hilarious moments in fiction I have ever read. It’s rare that I laugh out loud reading a book, but this book had me snorting and giggling in practically every chapter. Of course it would have been a good idea to bookmark these passages, but I was just so lost in Eleanor’s wonderful use of vocabulary (years of elocution have, ironically, schooled her in becoming a dazzling conversationalist!) that I simply forgot.
Reminiscent of The Rosie Project (only better) Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is an uplifting novel for our times with a contemporary female protagonist to rival the much-loved Jane Eyre. Honeyman has written a novel that does not shy away from the full gamut of human experience, from the scars (both physical and emotional) wreaked by violence, to the empowering beauty of kindness. Yes, Eleanor is very much a product of her past, but she is a survivor – not a victim.