SLIDER

'I could not solve the puzzle of me.'


I heard a lot of buzz for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine when it came out last year. In fact, I even went so far as to request it from the library. But when my hold came in, I just didn't feel compelled to start it. I hated the US cover, and the summary didn't appeal to me very much. Eleanor sounded prickly and a little off-putting. In the absence of a review from a trusted friend, I just returned the book to the library unread.

Enter Estelle. She read this book in December, loved it, and told me I needed to read it, too. I've learned to trust Estelle when she specifically recommends something to me. She's introduced me to so many of my all-time favorite books/authors. In the case of Eleanor Oliphant, Estelle compared it to Attachments (a favorite!) and The Rosie Project (which I haven't read but knew enough about to understand the context). She definitely made me curious!

Then, I kept seeing it in every bookstore Kelly and I visited in the UK. I couldn't resist buying a copy – especially since I liked the cover so much better. It's been sitting on my shelves the past few months, but I started it last weekend and read the whole book in a day. Bless Estelle for bringing this goodness into my life!
“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”
Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine, as you'll discover in the first few chapters. She's almost thirty, good at her job but not progressing professionally, and just doesn't quite fit in. Eleanor thrives on routine, can't stand artifice, and is essentially alone in the world. A weekly phone call with her mother and mundane interactions with her co-workers are her only source of social connection. Then, two things shake up her carefully crafted existence.

First, she sees a musical performer, decides he's the love of her life, and dedicates herself to pursuing a relationship with him. Around the same time, she witnesses an accident on the street that introduces her to Raymond, an IT guy from her office. Both events bring a lot of upheaval into her life – the quest for romance prompts her to make a lot of changes to her appearance and habits and the growing friendship with Raymond thrusts her into a lot of new social situations. It took me a few chapters to settle in to the story, but then I was hooked.

Y'all, this book reminded me of a modern-day Jane Eyre. Those are bold words, but hear me out! This isn't a Brontë retelling, and there are significant differences between the two books... and yet I couldn't stop drawing a connection between them in my mind! Like Jane, Eleanor has had a traumatic childhood. You get a sense that something is amiss early on, but the full extent is revealed piece by piece. Honeyman explores the effect that Eleanor's past has on her present and future, which is similar to Jane's story. In fact, Eleanor reads Jane Eyre:
“I reached down into the gap between the mattress and the wall and sought my old faithful, its edges rounded and softened with years of handling. Jane Eyre. I could open up the novel at any page and immediately know where I was in the story, could almost visualize the next sentence before I reached it. [...] Jane Eyre. A strange child, difficult to love. A lonely, only child. She's left with so much pain at such a young age – the aftermath of death, the absence of love.”
Jane and Eleanor yearn for the same things: to be loved, to belong, to be valued. In Chapter 22 of Jane Eyre, the heroine thinks to herself, “There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.” And observing Raymond with his mother in Chapter 10, Eleanor notes, “She looked at him with so much love that I had to turn away. At least I know what love looks like, I told myself. That's something. No one had ever looked at me like that, but I'd be able to recognize it if they ever did.”

Despite this longing to be seen and loved, Jane and Eleanor have a greater desire: to protect their independence. They have been wounded – by the very people who ought to have loved them the most deeply and unconditionally. And so, they have built walls around themselves in an attempt to guard their hearts from further hurt. They fear being dependent on anyone else because they have learned others cannot be trusted. Can you love and be loved when the very act binds you to another person? In their own words:
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”    – Jane Eyre

“Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don't find very funny, do things they don't particularly want to, with people whose company they don't particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I'd fly solo. It was safer that way. Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.”                                – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Can you see why my mind kept drifting to Jane Eyre while I was reading? There is more romance in Jane's story and more humor in Eleanor's. But the themes at the heart of both books are so similar. Jane and Eleanor are survivors, and they're unforgettable characters. I admire Gail Honeyman for writing a novel that is modern and unique but feels as though it has literary roots. There are so many layers to unpack with this one!

I know I haven't really touched on any of the things I'd typically discuss in a review like the writing, plot, setting and such. But honestly, there are more than 140,000 reviews of this book on Goodreads so you can easily find many of those details. For me, what stood out about this book – and what I will remember months from now – is the way it made me feel. Honeyman explores heartbreaking loneliness and illustrates how small acts of kindness can lead to meaningful connection. She made me ache for Eleanor and left me with hope for her future at the end.
Release Date: May 2017  | Publisher: HarperCollins (UK)
Pages: 385 pages | Source & Format: Bought; Paperback

1 comment

  1. OH MY WORD YES. The Jane Eyre comparison. I am SO there for that. I was like you: I put off reading this for the longest time and then I LOVED IT.

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