When reaching the final chapter to find an unreliable narrator, I always find myself angry and uneasy. Often this anger is projected onto the narrator, but after reading Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I realised I was uneasy with myself.
I was fooled into thinking the protagonist Eleanor was “fine”. Whilst I found the narrative uncomfortable and jaunty, and I could see she was oddly unsociable, I didn’t see what was wrong with that. At the early stages of reading, I struggled to understand the hype around the book.
I found myself agreeing, highlighting many of the things Eleanor thought was normal. But later on in the novel when Eleanor tries to commit suicide she states: “I have been waiting for death all my life. I do not mean that I actively wish to die, just that I do not really want to be here”.
I thought this accurately summarised my view on death. I did not squirm and feel emotional that the protagonist was trying to end her own life. I just shrugged my shoulders and thought Why not? I have always thought that we are going to die anyway if I die tomorrow at the age of twenty it did not matter. I have never been able to comprehend why people are so afraid of death.
It did not hit me until a couple of chapters on when Eleanor begins to seek help and get’s diagnosed with clinical depression that I realise: I am Eleanor. I was deceived by my own belief that my view on death was the norm. That it was healthy.
The remaining fifty pages of the novel unravel Eleanor’s past, all the deceptions and lies she had accumulated to make her life more bearable. The unreliability of the whole novel is revealed. Everything Eleanor has stated in the previous pages is not credible. She was unstable and I should not have agreed with her. But I did. I fail into the trap.
Honeyman has constructed what I think is a perfect psychological narrative. She reveals the turning point of her protagonist’s mental state, and in doing so evokes realisation in many others suffering from bad mental health.
The unreliable narrator reveals how our acceptance of what Eleanor states in the early part of the novel, reveals a lot about our mental state. It reveals we are not fine. When opening up the novel we thought we were completely fine, and by the end she has us questioning whether or not we need to embark on therapy too.
I finished the book feeling deflated but also relieved. I felt threatened but safe. The novel changed my perspective on how I should read books. Just because I agree with something the author says, it does not mean that it is right. They may be fooling us or trying implicitly to reveal something. But, Honeyman does this more explicitly.
Whilst Eleanor Ophilant is Completely Fine has not suddenly resolved all my conflicting feelings, it has taught me to consider both sides of the equation when coming across statements that can reveal something about my mental health. Because the opposing one may often reveal something about my state of mind, and save me from escalating any further.
Literature once again proves a useful tool for life and navigating emotions.