*Some Spoilers Within*
The month of May is about Mental Health Awareness, and as someone who has been battling with mental health throughout life, I am always eager to recognise the occasion. This year I am doing so by reading and reviewing Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Of course, Eleanor isn’t fine, and herein lies the façade of wellness that people masquerade behind, and that others are willing to accept to keep their own ‘wellness’ properly shielded. What a perfectly fine way to keep everyone teetering on the edge of madness. It’s time to change that, and it starts with honest and unflinching stories like this one.
Eleanor is not an easy woman to admire, as she is judgemental, unabashedly ornery, and wallows in misery. Some might find her downright annoying because of these attributes, but I am rather fond of her because of them. The realness that she exudes is exactly what I would expect of someone having gone through the traumas that she has shouldered, and Honeyman has written a phenomenally accurate portrayal of a broken and abandoned soul, arrested in development, and closed down to human connection.
I wasn’t good at pretending, that was the thing. After what had happened…given what went on there, I could see no point in being anything other than truthful with the world. I had, literally, nothing left to lose.
As uncomfortable as her behaviour might be for others, it is her reality that has moulded her, and most would likely carry on the same way if handed her experiences. Do we just cast away and ignore broken people, those who make us feel uneasy? At the very least we shun them socially, thus we’re not reminded of their pain.
Imagine, if you will, living every day of your life without a parent that loves you. As sad as it is, a lot of people in the world have a void in place of ONE of their parental figures. Either of the two people charged to love, cherish, and support a child instead have either used, abused, or abandoned them, sometimes all three. But being dealt the double whammy of having two duds for a mom and dad, now, that’s a rough ride. Add foster care and no other family to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for the social pariah that is Eleanor.
I wondered if that’s what it would be like in a family–if you had parents, or a sister, say, who would be there, no matter what.
Life is full of suffering, and making it in a world that will chew you up even when you’ve been sent in fortified with a force field of unconditional love is one thing, but what happens to those without a stitch of armour? They become hardened, disconnected, fearful, and live by the mantra, ‘I will get them before they get me.’ Not a very pleasant way to be, but a harsh reality, nonetheless.
I had no one, and it was futile to wish it were otherwise. After all, it was no more than I deserved. And really, I was fine, fine, fine.
At times you’ll see people invalidate the struggle of someone like Eleanor, lambaste them and instruct them that all they need to do is pull up their bootstraps and deal with their childhood issues like it’s just a rite of passage or a hill to climb; besides everyone has problems, right? But when you haven’t a soul that cares for you, how do you know how to care for others, least of all yourself? How do you realise that you are even worth it?
I pondered this. Was that what people wanted for their children, for them to be happy? It certainly sounded plausible.
It has been my experience that it takes just one person to show kindness and affection to someone who has lived a life in survival mode, to make all the difference and set things in motion towards betterment, and for Eleanor, Raymond is that person.
Raymond is a kind and endearing chap that fate has dangled in the path of Eleanor, and not a moment too soon. Although she hasn’t the ability to recognise the fortune that their becoming friends affords her, we the readers are able to see how his lightness of spirit is able to envelop the darkness of Eleanor’s heart, and how she slowly evolves into whom she was always meant to be.
Raymond is a saint, that’s for certain, as Eleanor undoubtedly tests the limits of his friendship with her quirky, bold, and destructive ways, but because he is a true friend who cares for her unconditionally -something she has never personally experienced before – her fortress of fear and judgement cracks, and she makes a metamorphic shift.
Eleanor, I said to myself, sometimes you’re too quick to judge people…The voice in my head – my own voice – was actually quite sensible, and rational, I’d begun to realise. It was Mummy’s voice that had done all the judging, and encouraged me to do so too. I was getting to quite like my own voice, my own thoughts. I wanted more of them. They made me feel good, calm even. They made me feel like me.
This novel will tear you down and toss you up, spin you around and leave you coming out dizzy by its surprise ending, but it is so worth the read. Eleanor is mistrusting, damaged, frightened, and unaware of the possibilities that life holds for her, but she is also a survivour and an inspiration. No matter the devastating circumstances that we are made privy to throughout, by the novels conclusion we are left uplifted, cheery, and exalted by a life headed in the right direction. A perfect selection for a discussion about the importance of mental health, and the ways to achieve it.
“In the end, what matters is this: I survived.” I gave him a very small smile. “I survived, Raymond!” I said, knowing that I was both lucky and unlucky, and grateful for it.
Favourite New Word:
sybarite – (noun) /ˈsɪb.ər.aɪt/ A person devoted to pleasure and luxury; a voluptuary.
Eleanor inspired me to make a bookmark of the phoenix rising from the flames.