Sometimes fine isn’t enough: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a heartbreaking and powerful novel that is difficult to put down, drawing the reader into the life of the main character. Eleanor lives by a simple routine, eating the same meal every day, wearing the same clothes to work, drinking the same vodka to help her forget. She lives within her carefully arranged boundaries in order to survive. However, a series of small events make her change this routine and try to understand a world she has purposefully been avoiding whilst remembering the darkness in her past that she had been protecting herself from.
Honeyman’s debut novel is about a character with a very distinctive worldview, built up as a coping mechanism, and how terrifying change can be when it upsets such mechanisms. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear not only how horrible elements of Eleanor’s past have been, but how much she has repressed to enable her to get through each day, at the expense of human connections and the unpredictability of life. It does not represent every experience of trauma and mental health because it is just one story, but what is important is that Eleanor discovers she is allowed happiness and the book celebrates how other people can be better than expected whilst not undermining the terrible things that have occurred.
Through an immersive first-person narrative, Honeyman creates a novel that draws in the reader, both dark and touching, with a message of finding human connections—in whatever shape or form—even when you’ve given up on them. The epigraph is from Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City and this is very pertinent: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine takes Laing’s look at loneliness amongst people and shows how the intersection between loneliness and mental health can be very difficult, but also that friendships and connections can be formed that can save a person’s life.