“Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine”. Yeah… sure. If you fell off a cliff and someone stumbled across your prone body on the ground and asked “How are you?” and you replied “I’m fine”. That kind of ‘fine’. When strangers say they are ‘fine’, they are usually not – and everyone is essentially a stranger to Eleanor.
“It wasn’t that I needed anyone. I was, as I had mentioned, perfectly fine.”
From page one of this marvelous book, I loved Eleanor. Yes, she is socially inept (to put in mildly), yes, she can be rude, abrasive, intolerant, and even (unknowingly) unkind. Still, I loved her. She is quirky, strange, highly intelligent, judgmental, and lonely. Oh, so lonely…
“When the silence and the aloneness press down and around me, crushing me, carving through me like ice, I need to speak aloud sometimes, if only for proof of life.”
Although she has a degree in Classics, she works in the unexciting field of accounting – keeping the books for a digital design firm in Glasgow. Her routine never varies. She works, she buys food, she goes home to her council flat, she sleeps. Repeat. Repeat. The only day that is slightly different is Wednesday, when she speaks to Mummy. Until the weekend, when she buys at least two bottles of vodka to make the time pass until she can go to work again.
“I rarely imbibe alcohol in public.
I only really enjoy it when I’m alone, at home.”
Eleanor confesses to an unconventional upbringing. We know that she has a nasty scar on one side of her face, and others on her hands. There was an ‘incident‘ when she was ten years old. After that time she was in foster care, with myriad different foster parents, siblings, and homes, all of which culminated in her going to university.
“Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She’s done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.”
Eleanor is now thirty years old. She knows this because she saw the date on a stranger’s newspaper. She had forgotten it was her birthday. An easy thing to do when no one knows it is your special day – and when no one has ever given you a birthday gift.
When her computer malfunctions at work, the new IT guy comes to her assistance. His name is Raymond, and he will unknowingly change Eleanor’s life. She thinks he is unkempt and she disapproves of his clothing and shoes. She hates that he always smells of cigarette smoke, and that he chews food with his mouth often open… Also she thinks him a ‘spectacularly unsophisticated conversationalist‘. Strangely, over time, they become ‘pals’.
I loved that Eleanor’s favourite book was “Jane Eyre”. She identified with Jane as both she and Jane were left with so much pain at a young age. Her only quibble with the story was that there is insufficient mention of Pilot. Because, as she says, “You can’t have too much dog in a book.”
Because Eleanor has no knowledge of what is socially acceptable behaviour , no experience to have learned it, no one to teach her how to conduct her life, she has no filters. She believes that honesty is the best policy, so she says exactly what she thinks. Often to the chagrin, or, sometimes amusement, of those around her.
Near the end of the book, Eleanor procures a female rescue cat which she calls Glen. (named for the brand of vodka she drank). Their relationship was wonderful.
Eleanor was such a strong and memorable character. I will never forget her. While visiting Eleanor’s world I was sad for her, I cried copiously, and… I laughed aloud. Any book that has the reader running that gamut of emotions is a stellar read in my book. You MUST read this book!
My heartfelt thanks goes out to Viking (Penguin Random House Canada) via NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this wonderful book.
Covers for this marvelous book include:
My favourite is the one on the right, but the one in the middle has more direct relation to the story. I wonder which one is YOUR favourite?
Gail Honeyman‘s novel has sold to almost thirty territories worldwide, and it was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017. Gail was also awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014, and has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.
Reese Witherspoon’s new company Hello Sunshine has set up to produce the Gail Honeyman novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
Gail Honeyman is a graduate of the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress and is Honeyman’s debut novel. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.