Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A review of the comedic literary novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

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Eleanor Oliphant lives a life that’s adequate. She goes to work, does the daily crossword, and drinks vodka so she doesn’t have to feel the thoughts lurking away inside her—thoughts about her mother, and her past, and the burn scar covering one side of her face. But one day her computer breaks down and she has to talk to the IT guy, Raymond. Raymond is slobby and disorganised and a mess, the complete opposite of Eleanor’s carefully structured life. But over time, their friendship develops and Eleanor’s life changes in ways she never thought possible.

This isn’t a book that’s heavy on plot; the focus is Eleanor and her character as she grows and changes. Eleanor’s voice is completely captivating; precise, clean, decisive, and often hilarious, she tells her story with a complete lack of self-pity, which makes it all the more heart-breaking. Because this is a story about loneliness and what that does to a person. It’s about friendship, and simple acts of kindness, and the weird complicated things humans do in their efforts to interact with each other. When Eleanor starts changing her routine, she starts experiencing so many new things, like bikini waxes, and dancing awkwardly at parties, and clothes shopping; and it’s both funny and sad—funny because she highlights the ridiculousness inherent in practically every aspect of socialising, and sad because she begins to realise that the ridiculousness doesn’t matter.

The secondary characters almost pale in comparison to how strong Eleanor is and how vividly her personality leapt off the page, but they were well-drawn and fleshed out. I did find Raymond very endearing, as well as his mother, and Sammy. Eleanor’s mother was a fascinating study; their relationship reminded me very much of the mother-daughter relationship in White Oleander by Janet Fitch, only this time with less artistic frill and snob, and more down to earth sadness and prejudice.

It was sad, it was funny, it made me think.

I loved this book.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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