Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Publication date: 18 May 2017 (UK)
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
Length*: 4 hours 45 mins
(*based on the time it took me to read this title) Published by: HarperCollins, HarperFiction
My rating: 4 out of 5
A stunning debut. 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 deal 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 debut novel seems to have had a stellar start: Shortlisted in the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress, it has gone on to be sold around the world. Pretty amazing for a debut.
The most striking thing about this book is the perceptiveness of human nature which is embedded in the main character, Eleanor. This perceptiveness takes two distinctive angles; Eleanor’s articulate judgement of other people (she says all the things about other people that you’ve thought but never said), and the details of her own nature which she unwittingly reveals as the story unravels from Eleanor’s first person point of view.
As the reader, you live inside Eleanor’s head. This is particularly interesting as Eleanor is not exactly a likeable character but, despite this, you end up caring about her, realising that all of her most grating qualities are a product of coping mechanisms.
If you enjoy novels told by an unreliable narrator, then you will enjoy the intricate and carefully applied use of this narrative device. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine and the more she says it, the more she believes it and eventually, if she believes it hard enough, it might actually be true. She is completely ‘fine’ in the same way as you growl ‘I’m fine’ at your partner when you’re really not but don’t have the capacity right now to go into all the reasons why.
As well as being completely fine, Eleanor is also completely average; nothing to see here, move along please, or at least that’s how she sees herself. When someone does think there is something better than unremarkable, Eleanor’s carefully assembled house of cards comes tumbling down. The path from an organised life, totally under control, to chaos (much in the style of the second law of thermodynamics) is tracked through three sections of the book, named “Good Days”, “Bad Days”, and “Better Days”.
This is a beautifully executed book, and an emotional rollercoaster. Full of keen observation of the human condition, it is well written and tightly plotted, taking you on a journey of twists and turns, never quite certain where it will take you next.
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins for providing me with a Kindle edition of this book in exchange for an honest review.