“These days, loneliness is the new cancer—a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might to be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
We have all asked the question “how are you” and we have all answered that same question with “fine” at one point in our lives. For most of us, we ask and answer it daily. It’s a nonsensical exchange that Westerners are all too familiar with. It’s more of a social greeting than a genuine question. But what if a person really isn’t ‘fine’? What if the person you’re asking is going through a really tough time? By doing this, and expecting the answer fine, are we conditioning them to be in denial of their own mental state? What if we all work with an Eleanor Oliphant? A person who just needs someone to care, genuinely, sincerely and without expectation to be just ‘fine’?
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a bestselling novel that follows Eleanor, a socially awkward, yet funny and charming young lady who has become the very definition of ‘stuck in a rut’. She has worked in the same job for years, eats the same meal deal every day and closes her apartment door on a Friday evening and doesn’t speak to another human until the following Monday morning.
Without giving too much away, the walls gradually come down around Eleanor as she learns how to give and receive kindness, something she has rarely been privy to in her past. These seemingly everyday moments of love and compassion are overwhelmingly heart-warming as we experience them through Eleanor’s eyes. The themes of loneliness, grief, compassion and friendship are all tied up with humour, sadness and excitement. It’s an emotional rolla-coaster that beautifully combines all these elements together.
The Scottish writer, Gail Honeyman, won the Costa First Novel Award 2017 for this, her debut novel. Her 40th Birthday was the “now or never” moment that pushed her to finish writing the book. Whilst she states to not have a lot in common with Eleanor Oliphant, they both share a message that reminds us it is never too late to chase your dreams and find what makes you happy.
Honeyman writes the character of Eleanor with such clarity, from her repressed memories to her little quirks, and she uses these characterisations as a way to sway us back and forth between heart wrenching sadness and fall-out-of-bed-laughter. Both reactions are strengthened by the prior presence of the other. She might not appear all that likeable at first, but as the reader follows Eleanor on her journey it’s impossible not to love her. Her lack of parental guidance has left her naive and innocent whilst her childhood trauma has left her strong and guarded – it’s an interesting mix that Honeyman conveys so clearly to the reader. Eleanor is a multifaceted character and all readers will be able to relate to her in some way, or at the very least empathise with her.
A recent study by the BBC (with over 55,000 participants) revealed that over one third of the English population often feel lonely. It’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last investigation into our planets ‘loneliness epidemic’ but it does make Eleanor’s story even more poignant and even more relevant. Eleanor speaks for millions of people across the globe who feel unconnected, unheard and alone. The novel opens up a conversation about loneliness and even hints at one of the reasons for its absence; a lack of everyday kindness.
We live in a world dominated by technology and whilst most of us live simultaneously in awe and fear of advances in tech, we can’t escape the growing role it plays in all of our lives. The stronger our connection to technology, the weaker our connection to others. It seems that we have all forgotten how to turn off Netflix and check in on an isolated neighbour or how to help in a moment of crisis rather than step back and film it. Perhaps if we could all take some time out of our day to sincerely ask how somebody is, we will receive a more intimate exchange that doesn’t end with “fine”.
We highly recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and would love to hear what you think. Let us know in the comments!
Next Month we’ll be reviewing The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Why not read along with us?
Review by: Krystal Stone