by Sophia Sakellariou, Senior Writer
When I picked up Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” at my local Barnes and Noble, I was struck by how the description on the back alarmingly mirrored my own COVID induced existence: “Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and … weekends mostly consist of frozen pizza, vodka and phone chats with Mummy.” Yikes. The only difference is I now live with my mummy so there’s no need for phone chats. I had to read this book to see how Eleanor, and partially myself, prevailed from this monotonous existence.
The beginning of the book is quite troubling. Eleanor has been working at the same company, in the same position since she graduated university, yet has no friends amongst her co-workers. A scar across her face, a burn mark from a childhood trauma that is gradually revealed to the reader as the novel progresses, signifies that she is different from the rest before she even has the chance to open her mouth. Her co-workers mock her peculiarity, yet she seems perfectly okay with being on her own.
Then she meets Raymond, the new IT guy who is the first person to actually see her and not the large scar that covers her face. After a chance encounter with a fainting man on the bus, Raymond helps Eleanor see the joy in the little things in life – having a meal with loved ones, helping an old man and his family, and going to a pub with a pal for a pint.
The story of Eleanor and Raymond is not a love story in the romantic sense, but a love story between two friends, an important narrative in today’s times. Loneliness is not something people consider when talking about people in their 20s. After all, a person’s 20s are their “selfish years,” the time where they explore their passions with little responsibility, or so they say. Yet, amongst the pandemic there is another epidemic at work– loneliness. When we were pulled from our daily routines we were removed from the social aspects that kept us afloat, even on the hardest days.
This book made me think deeper about changes I want to make in my own life. It made me think about what it means to be a good friend, as the occasional check-ins from my friends have gotten me through some dark times these past few months. It also showed me the value in being brave enough to step out of your comfort zone to help others and to not be afraid to ask for help for yourself.
Although the title of this novel claims Eleanor is completely fine, she isn’t and she doesn’t have to be, and neither do we. We can be happy, sad, excited or scared since those are the emotions that make life the wonderful mess that it is. Eleanor tells everyone she’s fine and appears so, yet her crippling loneliness eventually becomes so unbearable that she breaks under the weight of it all, and luckily Raymond is there to pick up the pieces.
This novel will make you laugh, cry and think about what it means to be human. It serves as a reminder that it is okay to not be okay and just because life is hard, we don’t have to go it alone. And that is a lovely thought.