Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, published in 2017. The story follows the eponymous Eleanor, a thirty-year old woman who lives alone and works in an office. She eats the same meals every day, has a phone call with her judgemental mother at the same time every Wednesday, and spends her weekends drinking vodka to avoid thoughts of her past. People often find her difficult to get on with, but Eleanor doesn’t mind: she prides herself on her independence. When she spots a handsome singer at a gig, she becomes convinced they are destined to fall in love. But as she prepares herself to meet and pursue him, she and a new coworker called Raymond witness an old man fall on the street, and feel obliged to help him. Suddenly, Eleanor finds herself in the social world she has been an outsider to for so long. Will she learn to cope, or will she return to her old ways? And will she learn to deal with her past?
The first thing I liked about Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is Eleanor. I quickly got a sense of her character, with her quirks and oddities setting her far apart from many other characters and making her stick in the reader’s head. It is quite clear that she is as complex as any real human, making her a pleasure to get to know. With this being a character-driven book, Eleanor’s character is obviously a really important aspect, and Honeyman pulls off her voice and development wonderfully.
The great character development isn’t limited to Eleanor, you’ll be glad to hear. The other, secondary characters, such as Eleanor’s mother, are just as fleshed out. Raymond, in particular, stands out as a relatable, down-to-earth character with plenty of quirks and flaws, and a distinctive but realistic personality. When fiction is often so full of outlandish characters, it’s nice to see one as normal as Raymond.
Eleanor’s love interest is set up within the first few chapters as the main plotline, however I would say that the main plotline is, in fact, her blossoming social life with other characters. This book is not a romance: rather, it is a book about loneliness and friendship, and mental health.
It is also, in part, a mystery. Hints are dropped throughout as to the nature of Eleanor’s past, and slowly the reader begins to put together the pieces of what happened. I was expecting a big reveal, even though I found I didn’t actually want one. Instead the reveal is slow, like the hints that preceded it. Yes, this made for less drama but I thought it was more fitting and much more believable. And while my guesses turned out to be correct (confirmed one at a time, over several chapters), there was still one more final plot twist; a final surprise which Honeyman had in store.
And that’s the main appeal of this book: it may not be dramatic, but it feels realistic and very believable, even despite the uncommon nature of Eleanor’s character and her past. Like life, it’s full of events tragic and happy and everything in between, but with little drama – life carries on, and people just get on with things. It makes for very poignant reading, but also some rather funny, more relatable moments.
All in all, I found Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine to be a very enjoyable read: well-written, with an interesting plot, and outstanding characterisation. Plus, it discusses some important issues such as loneliness and friendship, mental health, and trauma.