All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

on January 16, 2018

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Harper Collins
2017, 383p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher}:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. 

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than….fine?

This is one of those books where I find that I struggle to articulate just how good it is without just flapping my hands and saying something like “It’s fabulous. Just read it, you’ll see.”

I read this because of Amanda, the Bookish Manicurist, who sang its praises on her youtube vlogs, so much so that I picked up a copy to be part of my Christmas present (everyone in our family gets at least one book for Christmas each year). I’d heard other people talking it up too and so I ended up getting to this relatively quickly. So often I buy books and then they just sit on my shelf for ages.

Eleanor Oliphant lives alone and has worked in the same job for ten years. Every Wednesday she speaks to her mother on the phone. She has no friendships, her work colleagues often mock her to her face. She wears the same clothes, eats the same food, does the same things every day. And on weekends, the two bottles of vodka make everything go away.

It’s a sad existence and until Eleanor meets Raymond, the IT guy at her work, I’m not sure she even realised. Eleanor is socially inept, often unable to read cues from people or distinguish their sincerity. When she and Raymond assist an elderly man in the street, Eleanor makes an assumption about him but Raymond coaxes her into assisting. That action is the beginning of an odd friendship with Raymond, who is perhaps one of the first people who actually talks to Eleanor and attempts to get to know her. He opens up her life experience in a myriad of different ways as they visit the man they assisted in hospital, meet his family and generally expand Eleanor’s comfort zone and social circle.

Eleanor’s life is a tragedy that unfolds in parts, as snippets of conversation, an interaction or two and Eleanor’s thoughts that help to construct her background. There are many clues but the sheer horror of it is something that doesn’t pop into your head at first thought. It takes time I think, to accept that sort of thing as having happened. Eleanor has led such a sheltered life that she’s missing key knowledge about the most basic of interactions, such as how to go about finding a boyfriend. When she sees a man she likes, she assumes that is all that is required. She’ll show up to where he’ll be, he’ll see her, he’ll like her as she likes him and that’ll be it. It doesn’t matter that she’s never met this man and that she knows nothing about him. And when things don’t go that way, it’s such a lesson for her that she’s not sure how to cope with it and ultimately, she can’t.

It seems impossible that in this day and age, someone could be as alone as Eleanor is before she meets Raymond. She’s not on the internet and therefore doesn’t partake in any social media. Even people who don’t have friends in their immediate vicinity often have vivacious social lives online, sharing conversations with people all over the world. For Eleanor though, this is not the case. She is genuinely alone – the most interaction she might have is with the man who sells her the 2 bottles of vodka. Her work colleagues find her weird – and there’s no denying that she is, very different. I think that represents a strong part of society that does shun the out of the ordinary, that doesn’t make an attempt to get past someone as they present themselves. They do seem to care when it becomes obvious that Eleanor has hit a bad place (the bad days) but it could’ve very easily been too late, if not for the consistent presence of Raymond. Eleanor can be abrupt and she often speaks without thinking and I get the feeling that she might be quite difficult to forge a friendship with. Raymond is an interesting character – patient in a lazy kind of way, the sort of person who lets things fall into place with a confident assurance that they will. He seems unruffled by a lot of Eleanor’s quirks and he has a steady hand in getting her to do things at times, like help Sammy, the elderly man and also return to visit him and his family several times. I really enjoyed the way Raymond and his mother accepted Eleanor. They didn’t try to change her and Raymond offered to help her investigate her past to get the true picture. Raymond also continued to see her the same way, even after what happened, happened.

I could talk about this book for a long time but the uniqueness of Honeyman’s writing and Eleanor Oliphant’s voice just has to be experienced. It’s a gentle look at fragility, loneliness, blocking things out and just telling everyone (and even yourself) that you’re absolutely fine…..when really, nothing is fine. It’s beautifully written and constructed, a story that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s such a powerful, amazing debut that it’s made Gail Honeyman go straight to the top of my list of authors to obsessively stalk watch for a new novel.


Book #7 of 2018


4 responses to “Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

  1. Looks like a good one.

  2. Great review! I’m looking forward to reading this one as soon as I have a chance.

  3. This is a wonderfully thought provoking review. I started this book, but didn’t see it through because it too close to home for me at a time I wasn’t ready for it to be last year. You’ve given me much to think about here.

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