Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

Reviewed by: Tom Muckian

Tom Muckian

Eleanor Oliphant and her creator Gail Honeyman

It’s April and our time here with Eleanor Oliphant is almost up. It’s been emotional, life with Eleanor wasn’t easy. Let’s face it she’s eccentric to say the least, but we’ve survived. Most of you probably won’t need a review of the book as an awful lot of you have bought it already. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was by some distance the bestselling book in Ireland and the UK 2018. It outsold its nearest competitor by almost 2:1, selling almost a million copies. It picked up the Costa Book Award for Debut Novel of the year and the film rights have been optioned by Reece Witherspoon’s production company.

Now it’s probably fair to say that if you don’t like, or believe in the character of Eleanor Oliphant, then you probably won’t like this book. Eleanor is a very particular individual. When we first meet her she’s a 29 year accounts clerk working for a graphic design company in Glasgow. She lives a very ordered life, wears the same clothes every day, eats the same meals, and every weekend drinks the same 2 bottles of Vodka. Eleanor lives on her own, with only a potted plant for company. She speaks with her estranged mother once a week by phone. Her mother is mysteriously, locked away in an institution and the weekly phone calls are a painful ritual for Eleanor in which her mother passes cruel vindictive comments about the state of her personal and professional life. She’s made fun of by her co workers who refer to her as Wacko Jacko or Harry Potter (due to a facial scar, result of a childhood accident). Despite this however she seems perfectly happy, repeatedly telling herself that she’s completely fine. Two events however burst the bubble of her solitary life. The first is when she develops a crush on a Johnnie Lomond a singer in, local band the Pilgrim Pioneers. She becomes convinced that he’s the one, perfect husband material. She starts to follow his twitter account and sets about changing her lifestyle in expectation of their future “relationship”. The second event is when she and a workmate, Raymond Gibbons, go to the assistance of an old man Sammy Thom, who collapses in the street. As Eleanor’s relationship with Sammy’s family and Raymond grows, so does her relationship with the wider world.
As Eleanor slowly emerges from her carefully ordered solitary world we begin to suspect that she is anything but completely fine. She brings a critical, but entirely logical eye to much of what many of us take for granted in daily life, often making us wonder who is the odd one out, Eleanor or us. The strength (and weakness) of the book is the character of Eleanor herself. Seldom has this reader read a book so completely dominated by one character. All the other characters, with the exception of Raymond are underdeveloped, and the character of her mother is so broadly sketched as to appear like a cartoon villain. It’s hard however not to fall under Eleanor’s spell. She’s decent and caring and despite all her rough unsophisticated edges we care a great deal for her. She’s funny, even if much of the time it is unintentional and if we take anything from our time with her it should be to appreciate as she does the power of a simple act of kindness. Like her mother she is far too tough on herself and by the end of the book if she isn’t completely fine, she’s certainly well on her way. The theme of the book if there is one is how lonely we can be while surrounded by others.

Even if you don’t think this is your kind of novel you could do worse that spend some time in Eleanor’s company. You won’t regret it.
Gail Honeyman has created a hugely likeable character in Eleanor Oliphant, and her remarkable debut novel is a funny, original entertaining read. And if you’re not convinced by my review, here’s Gail herself to give you her thoughts on the book www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv6la7JfidY

And so to our April Book of the Month. Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson is next up and if reviews are anything to go by it’s well worth checking out even if you aren’t a huge Suede fan. In addition to reviews by Roe River and our regular rock star reviewer Ellie Rowsell, we’ll also be joined this month by author, singer, songwriter and award winning playwright of Belfast Girls, Jaki McCarrick.