In her debut novel ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, Gail Honeyman tells the story of Eleanor Oliphant who is completely fine… At least from the outside her life appears utterly normal. The nearly thirty year old woman has a degree in Classics and works in an office as a finance clerk. At a second glance, her way of living is rather odd. The book tells in three parts, good days, bad days and better days, how Eleanor’s extremely organised and rigid designed life unravels when she falls in love with an unreachable musician.
von Wiebke Martens
Eleanor has a strict and very efficient routine. Any aspect of her life is well-ordered: Every day she comes to work at 8.30, takes an hour for lunch, does the crosswords in the paper and goes to bed around ten; every Wednesday evening, whilst sitting in the staffroom, she talks to her mother on the phone. Her diet follows the same rule of efficiency: It should be cheap, nutritious and easy to make. She usually eats pasta with pesto and salad, except for Fridays, when she buys Margherita pizza, some wine and two big bottles of vodka.
When I get home, I eat the pizza and drink the wine. I have some vodka afterwards. I don’t need much on a Friday, just a few big swigs. I usually wake up on the sofa around 3 a.m., and I stumble off to bed. I drink the rest of the vodka over the weekend, spread it throughout both days so that I’m neither drunk nor sober. Monday takes a long time to come around.
She has, besides her colleagues at work, no other social contacts and even they seem to find her peculiar and weird. Eleanor, however, does not understand the behaviour of her fellows and has no real interest in getting to know them any further. For her it is hard to see through most of the social norms everybody around her somehow seems to know without being actually taught.
I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor.
Gail Honeyman often describes Eleanor’s misunderstandings in a very humoristic manner. Frequently, the reader finds himself in a position that allows him to relate to Eleanor’s quirks.
The first-person perspective lets the reader follow Eleanor’s thoughts and thereby gives him the opportunity to look at society from another point of view. Eleanor draws attention to conventions generally considered “normal” and accepted that, on closer consideration, seem to be illogical.
’It’s like, you know when you invite people over, and you say come at eight, it’s always a nightmare if some … if a person actually arrives at eight, because you’re not ready, you haven’t had time to tidy up, take the rubbish out or whatever? It feels quite … passive aggressive, almost, if someone actually arrives on time or – oh God – early?’ ‘I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about,’ I said. ‘If I were to invite people to attend at eight, then I’d be ready for them at eight. It’s sloppy time management otherwise.’
As the story goes on the reader figures out that Eleanor has a dark past and she did not experience much love in her childhood. An incident in her early years has left her scarred. As a form of coping mechanism she forgot almost everything concerning her growing up, including her mother. Throughout the story the reader and Eleanor slowly discover her past together – it comes to light piece by piece. When it comes to Eleanor’s mother and their time together, Gail Honeyman uses a cold and cruel tone leaving the reader with a disquieting feeling.
‘Mummy, please!’ I said. She cackled. ‘What’s wrong, Eleanor? Am I embarrassing you? What a strange child you are! You always were. Hard to love, that’s what you are. Very hard to love.’
The reader becomes a witness to Eleanor’s step-by-step change and roots for her as she grows in different situations and opens her heart to new people and the thought that she might deserve better in life.