Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (2017) – Gail Honeyman

Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Date published: 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Star Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is one of those novels that I had only heard great things about. Winning prizes all over the place and being picked for everyone’s book club. Even Reese Witherspoon (one of my most favorite people on the planet) has bought the rights to option the novel as a film. I read the blurb at the back of the book and thought; “hey this sounds as though it could be mildly amusing”. In my mind I imagined that Eleanor Oliphant was a little like the character of Bridget Jones, full of social ineptness and a penchant for vodka. I was so very wrong…

This novel is about loneliness. It is not about loneliness because Eleanor lives alone, and seems to have little or no social interaction with anyone other than her work colleagues during the week and the guy behind the counter at her local corner store. It is not about loneliness because she appears to have no contact with family other than the rather strange conversations with ‘Mummy’. This book is not about loneliness because Eleanor is alone, but rather because she feels such a deep and overwhelming fear that one day her loneliness will swallow her up and that no one will even know that she is gone. However being about loneliness does not mean that this book is not funny and full of heart and completely addictive.

Eleanor Oliphant’s life is a constant and predictable blur of the same routine year after year, day after day. She works in an office doing the accounts for a graphic design company, and has very little to do with her colleagues who find her a bit strange and treat her as such. She lives alone in a flat she has lived in since leaving university, which is furnished with the same basic furniture she received as charity, and there is almost nothing distinguishing about her clothes or shoes or the books she chooses to read. The only things that she seems to truly love and that set her apart are the crossword puzzles she does daily and listening to the BBC’s The Archers on Radio 4. She doesn’t own a television or a phone, and is quite content to go about her business during the week eating the minimal amount required to maintain optimum health. On weekends she hides away in her flat eating pizza and drinking copious amounts of vodka on her own. Then Monday comes round and it all starts over again.

This all seems to be a never ending solitary dance for Eleanor until one day she meets Raymond an IT guy who works in her office building and takes a shine to her. His adorable and seemingly ignorant obliviousness to Eleanor’s discomfort breaks through her perpetual desire to be seen as ‘fine’. We learn more about her traumatic and heart-breaking past, and together they start a somewhat unconventional friendship. Eleanor then slowly begins to try and fit in with society in the most honest and funny way possible. Through the laughter though it becomes increasingly obvious that Eleanor’s observations of human behavior and rituals is not completely without merit. We are indeed a very strange race with ridiculous perceptions of ‘normal’.

The thing to know about Eleanor is that even though she feels completely ‘alien’ in her surroundings and among EVERYONE she comes into contact with, she is probably the most relatable character you will find in modern contemporary literature. Her observations about life as we now know it and social conventions are astute, hilarious and damn accurate. She is the voice of reason in a world obsessed with celebrities and Twitter and reality TV. She is also the voice for mental health that we’ve all been waiting for.

In that sense perhaps Eleanor Oliphant is the unconventional heroine of our times. And that’s completely fine with me.

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