‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ is the debut novel by Gail Honeyman. The Costa Book Awards winner for 2017, it has also made number one on the Sunday Times’ Bestseller List.
A world-wide success (and selected for the actor Reese Witherspoon’s book club) praise for Honeyman’s work includes:
“Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!” —Reese Witherspoon
“This wacky, charming novel. . . draws you in with humor, then turns out to contain both a suspenseful subplot and a sweet romance. . . Hilarious and moving.”—People magazine
This book first came to my attention around Christmas time, when I was looking for something different to read over the holidays. This book is different, and Honeyman is an excellent writer who paints loneliness and grief so acutely it is at times painful.
The essence of the story
Written in the first person, when Eleanor begins her story you instantly feel her social awarkedness. I felt like I wanted to step into the pages and whisper gentle words of advice on the nuances and unspoken social protocols of living and interacting in the 21st century.
On the surface it appears that, as it states in the title, Eleanor is indeed fine. A university graduate, she has a safe but unremarkable job and lives alone in her rented flat. It is as the story progresses we discover that it transpires that actually, she really is not. She is lonely, has a facial disfigurement and possibly the start of an alcohol problem.
The start of an obsession with a local musician sees Eleanor trying to engage with the world, with often hilarious consequences. This obsession proves to be a catalyst in Eleanor’s life, and things will never be the same again, but it does set her on the road to recovery.
The true story of Eleanor’s life is not revealed until the very end, and although there are glimmers of what has happened in her past throughout the story, I found the final revelation surprising.
My favourite characters
All the key characters in this book are well-crafted, but my favourite is Raymond, Eleanor’s work colleague who eventually becomes a good friend. Honeyman’s portrayal of how their relationship develops is believable and honest.
Honeyman has worked hard on her characterisation and manages to get across the different personalities in the story very well. From Eleanor’s scary mother to her bitchy colleagues, Honeyman shows us that no-one’s life is perfect.
This book is dark in places, but also witty and funny. It kept me guessing right until the end when the story of Eleanor’s life starts to unfold, and everything begins to make sense.
An unusual story, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fairly easy read that tackles difficult subjects.
If you think you would enjoy reading this book it is available from the Amazon Bookstore.
It is also available as an audio book at Audible.