Gail Honeyman’s first novel, “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” was met with great reception. Debuting on Reese Witherspoon’s highly respected book list and keeping its position on the New York Times Best Sellers List for a whopping 42 weeks, the novel has wormed its way into the hearts of readers everywhere.
Miss Eleanor Oliphant, a thirty-year-old office worker with a holier-than-thou, is perfectly content with her life. She enjoys completing the crossword from the Daily Telegraph while eating her homemade sandwich alone in the staffroom for lunch, then promptly going home at 5:30 p.m. to read, watch TV or talk to her emotionally manipulative “Mummy”. On the weekends, Eleanor passes the time by polishing off two bottles of vodka and not interacting with another human being until she returns to work on Monday.
Eleanor’s perfectly mapped-out life becomes much more complicated after meeting the person she believes she is destined to be with, Johnnie Lomond, a cocky frontman from a local band. Further complicating Eleanor’s life is Raymond, a frumpish IT guy from work. Throughout the rest of the novel, Eleanor’s budding relationships with these two men help unravel her tight-knit persona, giving us a glimpse at her past life full of physical abuse and emotional manipulation that literally left her scarred.
By any normal standards, Eleanor should be a character I absolutely hate. Eleanor has virtually no redeeming qualities and comes across as unsympathetic and callous, yet I found myself relentlessly cheering her on for the entirety of the novel. At first, I hoped she would get her happy ending with the dreamy Johnnie Lomond, but as the novel progressed, I wanted to see her turn her life around and break the abusive cycles of her past.
Eleanor’s ultimate transformation is aided by her well-intended and kind coworker, Raymond. Raymond’s natural ability to empathize with others serves a drastic contrast to Eleanor’s social ineptitude but demonstrates to the audience there may be something great about Eleanor after all. Through Raymond, Eleanor is able to overcome the heartbreak she endured at the hands of her mother in order to become a more emotionally open person.
The most heartbreaking and eventually rewarding part of the story was Eleanor’s involvement with her “Mummy”. It is frequently hinted at that Eleanor was both emotionally and physically abused by her mother as a child; but, she still cannot seem to let go of her final connection to her mother, their weekly phone calls. During these calls, Eleanor is subject to an onslaught of harmful language that leaves both her and the readers feeling inadequate. The destructive relationship helps to depict the loneliness that Eleanor has felt all of her life because she was deprived of a loving mother while growing up. Witnessing Eleanor break the harmful abusive cycle and discard the harmful internal voice that Mummy has implanted in her psyche served as a rewarding eventual conclusion to the novel.
Told through a mix of broken memories and present action, this work perfectly demonstrates what is like to be truly and completely lonely. Through the love and kindness of Raymond, Eleanor’s story also shows us that it is okay to ask for help. It was a true joy to witness this character grow into herself and ultimately come to terms with her tragic past. For anyone who feels alone, helpless, or just stuck in a rut, Eleanor Oliphant’s story will remind you that there is hope and possibly redemption for everyone.