Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Published: June 1st 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living–and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
The cover of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was enough to entice me in to request this novel to read. It features a very stark white background, with a picture of a burnt matchstick house. This disturbing front cover image had me thinking about all sorts of things might be covered in the book, from arson to pyromania and the destruction of a family unit. I was somewhat close in my predictions of this title, but this is a book that awarded me so much more.
Eleanor Oliphant is our main character in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel. Eleanor is a rather odd thirty year old woman, living an extremely sheltered and compartmentalised life. She has worked for nearly ten years in the same job, at the same company. She is shunned by most of her work colleagues as the office weirdo and she rarely engages in social activities. Eleanor lives her life by routine and order, she shops at the same supermarket and eats the same meals, day in day out. Every weekend she purchases the same amount and brand of vodka, which she uses as a form of therapy to block out the loneliness in her life. Every Wednesday, she speaks on the phone to her mother but does not receive any visitors. A chance encounter with a kind stranger is the catalyst for change in Eleanor’s carefully ordered world. As Eleanor tentatively edges out of her safe cocoon, she discovers much about life, love, friendship and kindness along the way.
I had heard this book was amazing in the Goodreads community and book blogging world. Just the very fact that this book was shortlisted the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize for a work in progress, gives us an indication of its greatness. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was a surprising read, it slowly crept up on me and I ended up enjoying it much more than I would have anticipated. I will be honest and admit it took some time to warm to Eleanor as a person. At first she reminded me of Don Tillman, the socially inept but highly intelligent genetics professor, who is the lead character in Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project. I also had a few diagnoses going on in my mind for this character. These ranged from aspergers, to schizophrenia and childhood abuse. Early on in the piece, we learn Eleanor is mentally and physically scarred but it takes some gradual unfolding from Honeyman to reveal how and why Eleanor was injured. In fact, a twist near the close of the novel sheds further light on the truth to Eleanor’s background.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine treads very important ground and touches on a subject area that I believe is completely lacking focus, loneliness. We live in an age where we are saturated by the influence of the social media. It seems young people in particular have no cause to be lonely, with such a selection of avenues to connect with in the virtual world. The sad reality is there are many lonely members of society and they do not always fit the stereotypic mould of an elderly person. Honeyman works to draw our attention to loneliness. She also uses Eleanor’s story as a vessel to remind us that a small act of kindness can go a very long way.
Eleanor’s metamorphosis is nothing short of amazing. We get a feeling of this transformation in the way the narrative is structured, from good days to bad days and finally better days. Eleanor is a character who is filled with opposing qualities, she is as wholesome as she is cutting. She is fierce but vulnerable. Never has a character got so under my skin as Eleanor and this is a tribute to Honeyman’s brilliant style as a character driven novelist. The secondary characters featured in this novel are a delight too. I loved Raymond and rooted for him and Eleanor all the way. Many of the periphery characters that pop up throughout the progression of the novel as so normal, which makes this novel truly stand out. It is a book that will connect with many readers for simpleness of it all.
The mystery surrounding Eleanor’s background was one of the prime motivators for me to stay hooked with this tale. Honeyman uses the exact level of intrigue and gentle revelation to keep the reader sufficiently intrigued. When I reached the close of this novel, I was saddened and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to Eleanor. I had become an active bystander to her incredible transformation and felt proud of her as I closed the last chapter of her life.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a book that has it all. It is a rich and rewarding character driven story, full of humour, tears, mystery, friendship, kindness and love. I also loved the Scottish setting, a refreshingly different location base that I have not had to pleasure of reading before. I hope to hear much more from Gail Honeyman in the future, if Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is anything to go by!
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman was published in June 2017 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.