SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and intend to, do not read on. This is, after all, an article about the ending.
When I finally opened up my copy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on holiday last week, I was pumped to sink my teeth in. I’d heard nothing but good things – from friends, colleagues and many, many Facebook posts.
Largely, I devoured it. Thirty-year-old Eleanor is a fiercely independent, curious character you slowly grow to love.
Every week of her life in Glasgow plays out exactly the same. She works an uninspiring office job Monday to Friday, she takes 15 minutes every Wednesday evening to speak with her imprisoned ‘Mummy’ on the phone, and she spends her weekends cooped up inside her tiny apartment eating supermarket pizza washed down with two bottles of vodka. She is a woman who avoids social contact, who loves her houseplant named Polly, who has the most terrific vocabulary but doesn’t recognise massive pop culture references (such as Top Gear, SpongeBog Squarepants and ‘mofo’), and who thinks ‘Bobbi Brown’ is lazy for never showing up to work.
It quickly becomes clear she is absolutely not ‘completely fine’. She is profoundly lonely. (“I took one of my hands in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person’s hand holding mine. There have been times where I felt that I might die of loneliness.”)
That is, until she meets Raymond, who shows her the importance of kindness and, most crucially, her life can be much happier – she deserves it.
Through the book, as their friendship develops, you watch Eleanor allow herself to confront her complex past. Piece by piece, you begin to fill in the gaps of the terrible trauma she endured. It is a novel full of lump-in-your-throat moments that leave you feeling both desperate sorrow and intense warmth. And I couldn’t get enough of her clever social commentary (her take on the bikini wax is the actual greatest).
It’s a highly enjoyable read. A delicious page-turner, if you will.
So there I was, quite happily turning those pages… until I reached the fourth last.
You probably know the bit I’m referring to.
The goddamn twist.
“Police confirmed today that the bodies recovered from the scene of last month’s Maida Vale house fire belonged to Sharon Smyth (29) and her youngest daughter Marianne (4).”
That’s the moment you learn all this time, the ‘Mummy’ Eleanor was speaking to every week was never actually real.
This was by design so startling, I think I went over the sentence about five times just to be certain I’d read it correctly. Then I went on, looking forward to unpacking it.
Instead, the bombshell detail gets one more brief mention from Eleanor on the second last page.
“I’m fine. I mean, yes, obviously, I’ve got a lot of things to work through, very serious things. Dr Temple and I are going to keep talking about all of it – Marianne’s death, how Mummy died too, and why I pretended for all those years that she was still there, still talking to me.”
Now, I’m not someone who is completely opposed to a twist. If I were that way, I’d have trouble enjoying modern reading. It’s hard to find a best-selling novel these days that doesn’t involve some sort of jack-in-the-box moment towards the end.
Twists are very much in vogue. Sometimes tiresomely so. Which means, if an author is going to toss one in, should they not at least explore it to give us some sense of understanding of this new piece of information?
As a reader, when you’ve invested hours upon hours in getting to know a character, it is exasperating to be chucked a huge curveball only to then let it hang in the air.
What’s worse, is the twist in Eleanor Oliphant was entirely unnecessary. Rather than being dead, ‘Mummy’ could have just existed in prison like we always thought she was, and that would have blended just fine with the narrative.
But we are given a throwaway line just for the sake of a little shock value, which might work well in a 90-minute movie, but not a 400-page book.
So, to the authors out there: from a reader’s perspective, it’s entirely okay for you to end a story without a twist. And if you’re going to use this plot device, at least make it worthwhile.
It’s a shame, because up until those final few pages, I’d been truly loving Eleanor Oliphant.
And I certainly hadn’t expecting to find myself finishing the novel by snapping the book shut out of pure frustration, and hurling it across the room.
What did you think of the ending of ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’? Tell us in the comments below.
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