I’m fine. Everything is fine. We are fine. How often do we repeat these sentences? More importantly, how often are they accurate and honest?
In our February book club pick, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, we meet a woman who shows that even when stated, everything is not always fine. And when it is not, that is OK, too. We can rely on others we trust and find comfort in a community of support, love, and friendship.
The book is narrated by Eleanor, a socially awkward and brutally honest accountant in England. She lacks appropriate social skills and often seems rude or condescending to those around her. She likes routines and habits, both healthy and unhealthy, and her life is perfectly suited to her. As she states many times in the novel, Eleanor is fine with her life of solitude and order.
Yet, one can instantly read in her voice that she is alone and possibly lonely, even if she will not admit to this truth.
Christian commented that some people like Eleanor wear their loneliness as a defense mechanism. “It can’t hurt you if you pretend it’s not there, or that you want it to be that way.” It made us curious as to what had happened to Eleanor and why she remained so detached from others.
Eleanor’s life changes when meeting and interacting with two separate men.
First, she attends a concert and falls head-over-heels for the lead singer of a local band. She becomes enchanted with the idea of starting a relationship with him, even though she never truly meets him. She plans their meeting and life together, and she wants nothing more than to introduce him to her mother and please her. She changes her habits solely to entice this man.
Second, she meets Raymond, the IT guy at her office who attends to her computer. She is initially put off by his inefficient work habits, fumbling mannerisms, and lack of proper hygiene; despite that, he is kind to her. Their paths cross again upon leaving work one fateful evening. Raymond walks with Eleanor and on their way to separate destinations, they come across Sammy, an elderly man who has fallen in the road. Both Eleanor and Raymond help him (albeit reluctantly on Eleanor’s part), and suddenly her life is changed again.
Suddenly, Eleanor has more purpose and direction in her life.
She is trying new beauty regimes and clothing in her efforts to win the rock star. She is exposed to new people and things with Raymond. He befriends Eleanor and includes her in parties, lunches, and other engagements. She continues to help with Sammy, and in his passing, she feels grief. She even takes on new tasks at work. Eleanor seems to be changing for the better.
One can still tell that there are secrets and tension in Eleanor’s life, and her life was shaken one fateful night when she was young.
Without giving the story away, Eleanor experiences heartbreak and pain; all people do. Yet in her pain, she retreats into alcohol, depression, and withdrawal. She is quite lucky to have Raymond, a good friend who pulls her back from the brink and encourages her to get the help she needs. In our book club, he was everyone’s favorite character for his insistence and kindness! We also grew endeared to Eleanor as she grows and changes in the book.
As she explores more of her own past and pain, we discover that despite her insistence, Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine.
There are things she has buried to avoid feeling anything other than fine. Her life of order and routine is a facade to keep away the bad thoughts and memories. Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine – but she can and will be.
That is the underlying hope for our main character and for ourselves.
Life is not always fine; it’s not even bearable at times. There is pain and anguish; despair and sadness; fear and regret. Like Eleanor, we are so much more than these things. Pushing these things down and avoiding them does not heal us or make us fine. Trying to go it alone does not work. We can rely on those we trust and love in order to help us. Somehow, we can and will survive.
Eleanor leaves us with this: “In the end, what matters is this: I survived.” It is OK to not be completely fine. We just have to survive and live.
Our book club LOVED this book and character, and we hope you do, too!