Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman
“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…”
This debut novel by Gail Honeyman was an absolute delight, while simultaneously being SO important.
It is a delicately woven tale that follows Eleanor, a twenty-nine-year-old office worker, who is a quiet and socially awkward character, literate to the point of being pedantic, and what most people consider to be a little strange. But that’s okay because she finds other people strange too. Over the years, she has carefully constructed a life based around routine, often not talking to anyone from 5pm on Friday to 9am on Monday morning. She has her bottles of vodka, the crossword and the radio. And she is completely fine with that. Except, she often questions what it is that seems to connect people around her and what it is that is lacking in her own life.
The deciding moment of this novel is the day she happens to leave work at the same time as a co-worker, Raymond. They end up witnessing an old man fall, an event that binds the three of them for the rest of the narrative, providing Eleanor with friends, a concept completely unknown to her before. From here, we witness Eleanor slowly metamorphosing from an isolated, lonely existence, to one full of life and love thanks to Raymond and Sam. Her attempts at conforming to social norms are laugh-out-loud and make us realise that in fact our social conventions as British people are completely incomprehensible (such as bringing something with you when going to a friend’s house for dinner despite them telling you not to).
Seeing the world through Eleanor’s eyes wakes us up to the good and the bad in everyday life. It is a funny, sentimental and sad book all at once and it deals with the topic of loneliness so adeptly, that it makes you question the prevalence of it around us; once an issue solely associated with the elderly, the novel highlights the potential for young professionals to suffer equally from loneliness and forces us to reflect on how willing we are to reach out to those around us who may be struggling.
This is not a love story, for which I am grateful. There are hints of more throughout, but the focus remains on Eleanor and her journey to better self-worth and contentment, both of which are more than enough. Honeyman ensures that the protagonist in this novel is not rescued from her struggles simply by falling in love, but by other means in her own control, making her her own heroine and making this one of the most subtly empowering novels I’ve read in recent years.
There are very few characters that stay with me once I’ve finished a book, but I will not be forgetting the endearing Eleanor Oliphant and her search for a more meaningful life for a long time.
I would recommend – and have recommended – this book to anyone I can.
Star rating: *****