“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.”
I hadn’t heard much about this book before I bought it. In fact, it was originally intended as a gift for a friend’s birthday, but it somehow made its way from the bag, on to my shelf, and stayed there until I opened it a month or two later.
This was an impulse buy, and a risk, since I had no idea whether it was meant to be good or not.
Some risks are well worth taking – when it comes to books, at least!
As always, I promise to avoid all spoilers in this review; but I will begin by giving you a little overview.
Eleanor Oliphant is a woman of routine. She knows what she likes – or rather, what she needs – and sticks to it. It suits her. She has simple tastes, and few pleasures…but plenty of secrets.
One day, her odd little world is tipped upside down, and suddenly she sees what she is missing, and in fact, despite being sure that being ‘fine’ is enough, she realises that fine is not fine at all.
This is the story of the difference between existing and living, and how thin the line is between the two.
It’s also a story about mental health, loneliness, community and romantic ideals.
I’m going to be honest; I didn’t like Eleanor at the beginning. At all. She is, at first, irritating, dry, and just plain difficult.
The first thing you will notice is that Eleanor is a little bit…odd. She’s the sort of person who you might avoid talking to in the office kitchen; who you would see in the street and pretend to be scrutinising your phone as you pass her; who you would maybe roll your eyes at when she wasn’t looking. She’s not easy to get on with and even sometimes rather rude.
We see our reactions to her in the people who surround her.
Slowly, we learn more about her; we see what she’s really like, and more importantly, why. We understand her more, and her quirks are no longer frustrating. We feel for her and warm to her.
What at first appears to be a standard story of the pursuit of love and ‘happily ever after’ turns into a tale of loss, mental health and trauma.
This book is beautifully written with true attention to the details of human nature; how we build relationships, how our past can truly define us, and how we never know what’s going on in other people’s lives.
It’s the little things that make a big difference.
We must be kind to everyone; and if someone says they’re ‘fine’, they might not be.
After all, what is ‘fine’, anyway?!
This book is a true gem and I urge you to read it. You won’t like it at first, but trust me, you’ll learn to love Miss Oliphant as she learns to love herself.
(Incidentally, Eleanor Oliphant was part of the Radio Two Book Club, and so you can download a free chapter on the website if you fancy a taster!)
“Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are.”