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{September 17, 2019}   {Review} Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

From Goodreads: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

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As I began reading this novel, I was reminded a bit of A Man Called Ove, which I absolutely adored. Like Ove, Eleanor is put-off by people and social interaction, though her decision is more so because she doesn’t really understand them, rather than that she just doesn’t care for them. But regardless, she’d much rather spend time by herself. However, as Eleanor begins to share her idiosyncrasies with the reader through her first-person narrative, we find that her story, and the reason she acts the way she does, is not so much out of disdain for others, but rather from her tumultuous upbringing in which she endured some awful, tragic experiences at the hands of those who should have kept her safe. In truth, while Eleanor is funny in her quibs and thought-process, her story is quite sad and shows a deep, raw level of her psyche as she deals with her past and begins, slowly, to remember what happened to her so long ago.

This novel gave me pause as I began to think about social interaction, and what is deemed acceptable versus what is deemed “strange” in today’s society. We have all known others who don’t seem to understand social ques and “acceptable” practices… but what if, from their point-of-view of the world, we’re actually the ones who don’t get it? Eleanor made me laugh aloud a number of times as she described what she perceived as rude or strange behavior she was witnessing, which many in the world would actually view as quite natural and fine. But from Eleanor’s standpoint, it made sense that she found it strange, or thought so matter-of-factly about it, especially as we got to know her. It was quite interesting to turn those tables and think about this other side of the coin.

Here’s a few of my favorite examples:

When determining what gift is appropriate for someone, Eleanor, “pondered what else [she] should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they’re a love token, after all. {She] looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.”

When asked to contribute for a company gift for her co-workers, Eleanor states, “Janey was planning a short engagement, she’d simpered, and so, of course, the inevitable collection for the wedding present would soon follow. Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery-I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.”

And later, Eleanor has a hard time identifying a balloon she’s given, as she generally does not know what is popular in the world, as seen in this interaction with Raymond: “’It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,’ he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some sort of idiot. “SpongeBob SquarePants?” A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth! On sale as if it were something completely unremarkable! For my entire life, people have said that I’m strange, but really, when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.”

Of course I guffawed at these and many more instances, thinking, “she has a point!” In Eleanor’s world, she is not influenced by the world around her, and she thinks rationally–she’s never had anyone in her life really explain or show her the way of the world — she’s lived a very sheltered, lonely life, and while her thoughts are funny and endeared her to me, I also felt really quite badly for her, as the reader slowly begins to put together that the reason she isn’t influenced by the world around her, and the reason she doesn’t “get” people, is because she’s stuck, unbeknownst to herself, in a past where she was so deelpy hurt that allowing the world in again is unfathomable.

The characters in this novel are very real, and I found this to be quite an intriguing read, one I devoured quite quickly, though not without questions. Some of the events in the novel seemed a little off, like they perhaps wouldn’t be something that could or would happen, and of course, which I can’t describe specifically here without spoiling the entire novel. But even with suspending disbelief in a few areas of the novel, overall I found it quite enjoyable and rather touching, and I highly recommend it. Four stars.

I purchased this novel from Amazon.

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