Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant cover

Published by HarperCollins. Hardback out now; paperback due 5 April 2018.

The title itself has to be one of my favourites of all time. There’s something about names in a title (Harry Potter, Harold Fry) that appeals to me, and this is especially brilliant for its simplicity and charm. This lulls you into a false sense of security, carried through the early pages of the novel, before we begin to discover more of Eleanor’s story.

I started these early pages wondering what the hype was about; everything is completely fine to the point of boring, apart from occasional jarring evidence to the contrary: she buys two bottles of Vodka on her way home every Friday, for example.

It becomes apparent is that Eleanor is very much alone and has been for years. Despite only being in her late twenties, her voice comes across as much older, being so detached from the world and the people around her. This detachment provokes both sympathy and hilarity in almost equal measure, a difficult balance that the author manages perfectly.

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

This is the story of how she begins to reconnect with the world, experiencing her first crush and even – horror – getting to know one of her colleagues. Her character is complemented by the lovely Raymond, the scruffy man who works in the IT department and is the complete opposite of the prim and proper Eleanor of the early chapters.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling it, but the apparent simplicity of this woman’s life is torn away over the course of the novel leaving a flawed yet incredibly endearing heroine. Her story is heartbreaking, shocking, yet ultimately joyful.

[On a completely irrelevant side note, I liked that the novel was set in Glasgow. There just aren’t enough books set in Scotland, and this is a wonderful one.]

I’m not exactly sure which type of reader I would recommend this to, because I think I would recommend it to everyone. In fact, there were aspects that reminded me of two of my very favourite books: The Humans, where the main character is an alien and so we see how strange the world would be through his eyes; and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, which has something of a similar atmosphere. It definitely feels like something Rachel Joyce could have written.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is quite the debut, so I can’t wait to see what Gail Honeyman writes next.

Rating: ****

 

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