***There will not be any spoilers in this blog, I will just talk around the book, the key themes and my thoughts/opinions***
With a nomination for ‘Best Fiction’ as part of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2017, and an average rating of 4.3 stars, ‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine’ was a prime choice for the bookclub at my work.
It was rising in popularity and people were talking about it but none of us knew any background to the book, or what the fuss was all about frankly. When you Google the title, you are met with a myriad of results including; discussions on the upcoming film, how it set the publishing world on fire, and some very mixed reviews.
I feel compelled to write ‘mixed’, because the more people I talk to, the more it becomes apparent that the book is very much like marmite. Or at least it is within my reading circles. You either love it, and love Eleanor, or you don’t.
Personally, I love Eleanor. I loved her from the moment I read the first page. I laughed out loud (a lot!), although I questioned whether I was supposed to be laughing or not. At times I felt sad for her, and a little protective as the story unfolded. I shed a tear when times were hard – the way the book was written totally got to me. I felt like I was with Eleanor throughout the whole book and completely visualised her and the other characters. In short, I loved her story.
There are so many books I want to read, and films that I want to watch, I sometimes wonder if there is time to fit everything in to one lifetime. And part of the reason I loved this book so much, is the fresh perspective on loneliness, society, social norms, social awkwardness, and mental health. Apologies if I’m over simplifying complex human relationships and processes here, but, this is what the book boils down to for me.
I think the book tries to explain that people are people, and we are the way we are because of our histories and personal experiences. There are things that shape us within our lives (our families, environments), and there are external factors that can have an impact, such as the people around us and situations that we find ourselves in.
This refers not only to Eleanor, but to her work colleagues, who each have their own reasons for behaving and interacting with her in a specific way. I suppose there’s something in the idea of making fun of things we don’t understand? I don’t know if this a cultural thing, or perhaps an immaturity thing? Eleanor’s experience at work was more akin to what I would expect in a school or playground scenario, hence the immaturity comment.
A central theme within the book is kindness, friendship, loneliness, and the necessity to talk about things to make sense of them. There’s an expression that anyone can be alone, because being alone is a physical state of being, however loneliness runs much deeper. Loneliness is a feeling that a person can have whether they are surrounded by people or completely alone.
People talk about isolation in the 21st century. The great irony, I suppose, is that we are more connected than we have ever been in our lives, through social media and the revelation that is Google. The world has become so small, adventure and escapism are almost always within our grasp. However, community in the traditional sense is completely different today. When was the last time you spoke to your neighbours? Do you know their names?
Things are different now, times have changed. The way we live is completely different to the generation before us, and the generation before them. In many aspects of life, changes have been acknowledged, but within the realms of mental health and saying whether we are actually okay (or not), progress has been slower. There’s this stigma in society, whereby acknowledging you need help, or actually saying ‘I’m not okay’ (this is not a MCR reference by the way), is seen as being weak.
This won’t change overnight, because it is arguably ingrained within society. But books like this might make counselling and therapy more acceptable, instead of something that is considered a secretive thing. Wanting to keep things private is different to feeling ashamed of needing help.
‘Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine’ is important because it puts therapy and mental health in the spotlight, and highlights that everyone has their own story, we are the way we are because of factors often outside of our control, and perhaps we need to be kinder and more understanding as a society.
Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine? How do you rate it?
If you’d like to connect on Goodreads, you can find me @DistractedFlick