Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the first novel of Gail Honeyman and it has been a publishing sensation. It was published by Harper Collins in May 2017 in the United Kingdom and in Italy by Garzanti in May 2018 with Stefano Beretta’s translation and the title of Eleanor Oliphant sta benissimo. Translated also in more than 30 countries is soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon.
A publishing sensation
It is not easy to read a novel that is having such a huge success. One may feel a sort of embarrassment like when meeting a new person. Someone loved by everyone for whom one feels uneasiness and at the same time a strong attraction.
In these cases a good strategy may be to wait the excitement to pass and start the reading after a while. With Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine this was hardly possible as we kept meeting readers who talked about her as a friend they heartily wished us to meet. So, we decided to read it right away and find out the reason why Eleanor is so special.
Eleanor and social drives
Gail Honeyman has a delicate yet vivid writing that makes us feel, from the beginning, very close to Eleanor. She is an office misfit, a socially awkward loner with an apparent complete disregard for popular culture. She speaks directly to us with a refined and precise vocabulary describing the reality that surrounds her through the filter of her emotions.
Her way to accept and picture loneliness appears soon very enjoyable. She looks at sociable people and social drives in general with continuous amazement and irony. Almost as a scientist analysing the motions of planets, never failing to be astonished by its mystery yet always maintaining an attitude of refreshing humor.
Eleanor’s sense of humor
This attitude of funny amazement that she shares initially just with us makes her so easy to love. One of the reasons for this, is that she does seem to be impervious to emotions: safe and sound, Eleanor Oliphant is completely.
Everyone builds their walls to contain their demons – or better “daimons” as Carl Jung calls individual hidden drives – beautiful walls, nice walls, funny yet still walls. However, life likes nor walls neither those who cannot look their “daimons” in their face.
So, at one point it takes your hand dragging you towards a remote place and there they are, your “daimons”. You cannot do anything but starting dealing with them. Humor hides a deep pain and we get to know it throughout the pages, together with Eleanor.
“Pain is easy; pain is something with which I am familiar. I went into the little white room within my head, the one that’s the colour of clouds. It smells of clean cotton and baby rabbits. The air inside the room is palest almond pink, and the loveliest music plays. Today, it was “Top of the World” by The Carpenters. That beautiful voice … she sounds so blissful, so full of love.”
Eleanor’s ability to manage pain and the related stress is wonderful yet unstable as it rests on shaky foundations built by her imagination to protect herself from what she is not ready to cope with. It is a capacity that can be best put to use in loneliness but it is not possible to live a whole life alone. At one point the call to sociability is to come.
Gail Honeyman reveals in an interview that through the character of Eleanor, she aims at exploring relational difficulties. Part of the book’s beauty comes from it facing the topic with truth and optimism. Eleanor suffers but she is always reactive and never gives up, which is the reason why she is so easy to fall in love with.
Everyone has experienced, at one stage in life, relational difficulties. Eleanor with her troubled childhood yet her adult sharp mind like a modern Jane Eyre reminds us how relational difficulties may often come from traumatic events and one’s inability to overcome their negative effects turning them from being weapons against others into useful tools to tackle any upsetting life situations with an assertive, balanced approach. This ability is known in psychology as resilience, a very complex concept that Eleanor makes readable and familiar.
Reading Eleonor Oliphant
Eleanor explains to us indirectly what resilience means. Namely, having to be subjected to upsetting events yet be able to find autonomously the psychological resources to respond and build a personality able to live, even if limping. And maybe have the strength to pursue a dream that can make us run again: learning to believe it, almost touch it and see it disappearing.
So then be back to pain but this time to realise that it is not an end in itself. Pain is instead often a path towards the consolidation of a stronger personality. To become an individual able to judge not only the benefits but also the emotional and affective interferences that occur in the relations with others.
Eleanor tells us a story about the pain that comes from the inability to love but also about the way to deal with it. With her we learn how to recognise the smile of a loving father for his family, the tenderness of a caring mother for her only child, the warmth of friendship and the promise of love even when we have never known them firsthand.
Eleanor says something important to us. She says that reorganising positively our personality after any difficulties is possible. Reading her story helps us look at the future with a positive attitude, with hope, joy and a renewed faith in people and life.