Some of my friends say to me, ‘I don’t know how you read so much, I just don’t like reading’, and to that I always reply, ‘you just haven’t read a book you’ve loved yet’. Like so many other people, I was going through a reading slump that had lasted a few years. During my A-levels, in the midst of exam revision and university applications, my love for reading was mislaid. It had been years since I’d read something I really liked so I forgot what it was to enjoy reading to the point where you stay up late just to read a few more chapters.
Then, during my gap year, when life asked nothing of me and time was all mine, I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I had low expectations - my lack of reading and increased screen time meant that my attention span had diminished so I often struggled to read for more than twenty minutes in one go. But Eleanor pulled me in right from the very first page.
Eleanor Oliphant is fine, she really is. But...
*Spoiler alert* (not really)
She isn't really.
Eleanor seems to think she’s the only sane person amongst a bunch of confusing, socially awkward people. People don’t seem to converse as well as she would hope they would. They abbreviate their words in emails and they use emoticons, both of which are beyond her comprehension. Has the whole world gone completely mad?
The world alienates her and in return, she keeps mostly to herself. Having close to no human contact on the weekends and with minimum exposure to society at her work place, she lives an extremely isolated life. She seems to feel like she does not exist. Do we exist if there is no one to acknowledge our existence? If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
It turns out it does and that there is always someone around to hear it. Enter Raymond, who is proof that personality triumphs looks.
Eleanor works behind the scenes in a graphic design company, dealing with invoices and other things I can’t seem to remember (sort of how no matter how many times your Dad tells you what his job is, it remains a mystery). Raymond is the new IT guy who Eleanor disapproves of. She doesn’t like his lifestyle choices, from his tennis shoes to the grammatical mistakes in his emails. But after just a few pages, we fall in love with this man, the only one that sees Eleanor, keeping her grounded in a world that had almost let go of her.
They both seem equally odd to one another, yet they form the kind of bond that we hope to have at least once in our lives. I was never quite sure whether it was romantic or completely platonic - it’s a bit ambiguous in the book. But Raymond, in a way, saves Eleanor just by proving to her that she does exist and that someone is there to see her and care about her. Sometimes we take little acts of kindness for granted, but this book really shows how small things, like giving someone a biscuit with their tea or asking that stranger on the bus if they’re alright, can have a huge impact on other people’s lives.
Throughout the book there is the issue of Eleanor’s mother - ‘Mummy’. I won’t add to the spoilers, but let’s just say she’s someone we’d rather be rid of. Wanting to seek ‘Mummy’s’ approval, Eleanor forms an odd obsession with a local musician because she thinks her mother would approve of him as a good choice for a husband. We know something has happened to Eleanor throughout the book - there is a massive scar on her face which acts as a constant reminder that perhaps there is a darker side to the book. Again, no spoilers, but finally getting to the bottom of what happened was…shocking.
Loneliness is something most of us are embarrassed to acknowledge ourselves, let alone talk to others about, especially as university students. It’s something we associate with old age, but the truth is that loneliness is something that affects young people just as much. Eleanor is not fine, even though nothing bad is happening to her at that moment - she has a flat and a stable job, but there is something missing, something that is fundamental to our needs, though we refuse to admit it. That thing is human contact.
A heart-warming book with little moments that make you realise just how much we truly need other people. Fate throws so many wonderful beings into her life: Raymond, a cat (that Raymond gives her), Laura and many others. There is something so undeniably likeable about Eleanor - maybe it’s her unworldliness in matters of social interaction. She doesn’t know why people find her odd, which gives her a childlike innocence. Her interactions are funny and will leave you cringing somewhat whilst laughing at how awkward everything is, making for a highly entertaining read.
I would definitely recommend this book to those trying to dig themselves out of a reading slump or looking for a thought-provoking book to read. Not only is the plot interesting, with the mystery of Eleanor’s past, but the book also shows us how treating others with kindness can have a positive impact on their lives.
So, remember to be kind, and happy reading!