Hi everyone! Today is my review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman which has been longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and hopefully I’ll get round to most of them before the winner is announced in June. Here our narrator is the eponymous Eleanor, a thirty year old woman who works in the finance department of a graphic design company, and her life is quite alright thank you very much. She gets the same Meal Deal every lunchtime, wears the same clothes to work and buys two bottles of vodka and a margherita pizza every Friday. That is until Eleanor and work colleague Raymond help a man who has collapsed in the street. This small act of kindness triggers a series of events which brings Eleanor’s ‘fine’ life crumbling down and reveals her past.
I must admit at first I did struggle to connect to Eleanor. She has disconnected herself from the outside world and very often doesn’t understand pop culture references others make. What seems normal to us is odd to her and vice versa. It was different to anything I had read before, however, once I got thirty pages in I began to get used to the style of narration and really enjoyed it. She has such an interesting and witty outlook on life, and some of the observations she makes about others made me laugh. I particularly enjoy her method of getting rid of nuisance callers. Honeyman successfully writes in this quite unusual tone yet also doesn’t alienate the reader and makes you care for Eleanor.
Honeyman also tackles sensitive topics like depression and loneliness through her main character. She does this wonderfully and these darker subject matters are handled with such sensitivity. As someone who continues to struggle with mental health, there were moments where I completely identified with Eleanor. It was quite nice to see someone articulate my thoughts and feelings. Honeyman has obviously done a lot of research into this topic and despite the slightly heightened nature of the protagonist, her portrayal of these problems were painfully realistic.
As the story develops we find out more about Eleanor, and Honeyman does an excellent job of pacing. As a reader you are given fragments here and there, which you piece together throughout and understand what has happened in Eleanor’s past. It is quite obvious what occurred about halfway through, but I got a couple of small details wrong and my guessing didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel. After all this isn’t a mystery, but rather a look at how even the smallest kindness could have a big impact.
Whilst Eleanor’s character development is wonderful, I feel Honeyman’s portrayal of Raymond is also excellent. He is the opposite of Eleanor in every sense and you watch their burgeoning friendship unfold joyously. On the flip side Eleanor’s relationship with her mother is filled with dread and disgust. Honeyman does a great job of contrasting those two characters, showing how you treat someone else could impact them in a positive or negative way.
Honeyman’s debut novel is far more than just ‘fine’. It is funny, poignant and moving. The characters, especially Eleanor, are so well-developed. I didn’t really want to leave them after the novel was done. Her writing is also very skilled and assured, flirting between sadness and humour very well. If all the books on the longlist are written to the same standard as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine then I am in for a treat.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is published by Harper Collins and you can find more information here.