Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2019
Eleanor, Eleanor, oh darling Eleanor: a surprising, deeply affecting character. A character that is unlike any I've read in recent memory. She is an endearing misfit and a charming underdog that I feel if we are honest with ourselves, we all will relate to. A piercing character that made me sit up and think about the not so savory things about myself and my own life. I think many women of a certain age - post 20s before 50, will sharply relate to Eleanor in some way. Part of me getting the most out of this book and allowing its lessons to penetrate through, was in letting go of any pretentious thinking I had that Eleanor was a fictional character. Because no, she is not fictional. She is very real. Look out, not even far, and you'll see her: at school, at the cubicle next to yours, at the supermarket, at church, at the gym, at the airport, down the street, two doors down from your bedroom, she's there.
Eleanor is the type of character that I perceive had she been written about a century or two ago, her fate would be different from what we read here. Even more tragic, which is saying a lot. In contemporary times when young women [and men] have access to all manner of comfort, countless entertainment options, myriad ways of communication, seemingly endless avenues of pleasures, Eleanor finds herself lost in the fray. She is barely visible, she is inaudible, heart-breakingly lonely and pining for the tiniest of human connection. Like a mustard seed floating in the Pacific, without compass, with only the rising and setting sun its company.
Immediately on page 3, I was taken by Eleanor's story. She is witty, she is smart. She is bitingly sassy, perceptive, wise beyond her years. Barely anything gets by her. Eleanor has a gift to see others as they likely are, yet she is unable to see herself for her own circumstances. Circumstances that are more serious than she herself knows. It has been a long time since a character could in one stream of their consciousness make me laugh, make me cry, and make me sit back and think about my own place in the world.
In our current age of conceited Instagram posts, vacuous tweets, infantile snapchats, plus the vapid pop culture lifestyle that insipid faux celebs try to pass off to fans as enviable in order to seek validation - Eleanor, like many of us, is hurting and drowning amidst all the fakery. To cope, she has built a wall around herself, one which she thinks protects her, not knowing that the higher the wall, the further she alienates herself from the potential kindness of strangers. Eleanor's tragic past as well as her sullen present are wrought with an underlying layer of sorrow. A sorrow that Gail Honeyman skillfully reveals at the methodical pace of someone peeling the fibrous layers of an acrid, soon to spoil onion. I say onion because once fully disclosed, the reader, like I was, will no doubt be on the verge of tears.
I enjoyed Eleanor's story immensely and I liked Honeyman's writing of her. She is unlike any female character I've read in a long time. I do however wished the author had written a longer story, delving deeper into Eleanor's past, and being more descriptive into Eleanor's earlier years. Had she done so, it would have made this book 5-stars for me. Despite some room for improvement in the overall story, 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' is a tragically beautiful, powerful read and I highly recommend it. I recommend for women between the age of 20 to 50. I especially recommend it to teen girls, girls who are still discovering themselves, the ones who think the smallest of inconvenience is the end of the world. I highly recommend this book to men of all ages: dads, boyfriends, sons, husbands, male bosses, so they get to know one example of what their daughters, their girlfriends, their mothers, their wives, their female associates may be going through internally.
Lastly, there are two sentences on page 5, two of many that I highlighted during my reading and I've attached an image of - that I dare anyone to read and not truthfully admit that they themselves have not at least once felt this way in their life. These two sentences fully encapsulate who Eleanor is, and what her life is like in these wretched times. Pain and loneliness are universal, yet we each suffer as if we are a population of one.