This is a remarkable effort for a first novel! It is so well-written. The story is told in the first person, and it's completely from Eleanor's point-of-view. We see the world entirely as she sees it. Eleanor is severely damaged, both mentally and physically because of the trauma she experienced daily for the first ten years of her life. When we meet her she is 30 years old, living on her own, working as an accounts receivable clerk in a graphic design company located in Glasgow. The remainder of her childhood was spent in foster care for 7 years and then she attended university on a scholarship and graduated with a first in classic literature. She manages her PTSD and chronic depression by keeping herself to a constant routine, and with the help of her weekend vodka binges which she swears helps her sleep. Then she meets an "IT guy" at her workplace by the name of Raymond, and her whole world begins to change. As the story unfolds, we get the story of Eleanor's childhood, and we begin to fully understand her and her viewpoint of the world. This is an excellent portrayal of the frailty of the human psyche, and also the strength of human nature to develop the coping mechnisms required to get through the morass and bleakness that traumatic events have on our psyches. Highly recommended, and thank you to my GoodReads friend who recommended this book to me, after she had read my review of A Man Called Ove.
“Even the circus freak side of my face – my damaged half – was better than the alternative, which would have meant death by fire. I didn’t burn to ashes. I emerged from the flames like a little phoenix. I ran my fingers over the scar tissue, caressing the contours…. There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the first novel by British author, Gail Honeyman. At thirty years of age, and despite her degree in Classics, Eleanor Oliphant has worked a mundane office job in By Design, a graphic design company in Glasgow for nine years. She has no friends and the people she works with find her strange. But her life is well organised: completely fine, in her opinion, needing nothing. Until, that is, she casts eyes on musician Johnnie Lomond.
Eleanor sets out to attract the love of her life, undergoing several preparatory procedures to ready herself for a potential encounter (waxing, hair, nails, make-up), as well as acquiring the electronic means to do some research on the object of her attention. She is distracted from her task by Raymond Gibbons, the firm’s (rather slovenly) IT consultant, who ropes her into helping an old man who has fallen in the street. Eleanor is sure he’s drunk but “…Even alcoholics deserve help, I suppose, although they should get drunk at home, like I do, so that they don’t cause anyone else any trouble. But then, not everyone is as sensible and considerate as me.”
Honeyman gives the reader a moving tale that includes a good dose of humour. Eleanor is a complex character: socially inept but generally unaware of it, often remarking on the lack of manners that others display: “’You don’t look like a social worker,’ I said. She stared at me but said nothing. Not again! In every walk of life, I encounter people with underdeveloped social skills with alarming frequency. Why is it that client-facing jobs hold such allure for misanthropes…”
Yet Eleanor is often insightful, although she can also be naïve: “After all, how hard could it be? … If I could perform scansion on the Aeneid, if I could build a macro in an Excel spreadsheet, if I could spend the last nine birthdays and Christmases and New Year’s Eves alone, then I’m sure I could manage to organize a delightful festive lunch for thirty people on a budget of ten pounds per capita”
Her literal interpretation of what people say often makes for laugh-out-loud moments, and her observations can be shrewd: “She had tried to steer me towards vertiginous heels again – why are these people so incredibly keen on crippling their female customers? I began to wonder if cobblers and chiropractors had established fiendish cartel.”
This brilliant debut novel touches on childhood neglect, physical cruelty and emotional abuse, as well as repressed memories and survivor guilt. It highlights the value of a skilled counsellor and the importance of care and understanding, friendship and love. Recommended!