Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine | Gail Honeyman

“I would disappear into everywoman acceptability. I would not be stared at. The goal, ultimately, was successful camouflage as a human woman.”

— Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Enjoying a book depends not only on its content, but also on the moment you read it. I was lucky enough to read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine at the perfect time, making it a very pleasurable and, might I go as far as to say enriching, book. Maybe Eleanor’s camouflage wasn’t that successful after all…

Eleanor is turning thirty and has spent “the last nine birthdays and Christmases and New Year’s Eves alone…” More than alone, she is lonely, a “creature of habit” who rarely, if ever, connects with others and follows her somehow saddening routine based on her work schedule, her mother’s weekly phone calls, pizza, vodka, reading, and The Archers.

Nothing’s wrong with any of these things, and Eleanor is completely fine. But she will soon discover that she might need and want something more. Can she really turn her life upside down, however? Does she have to? And how can she do it?

Although this novel’s plot is not the most engrossing I’ve ever seen – it is, overall, quite predictable despite a small surprise for me at the end –, Eleanor Oliphant is more complex than it sounds. It is more than a light, fun summer read about a young woman trying to make her life spicier, as we gradually discover Eleanor’s bumpy story and her involvement with justice, social workers, etc., although it takes time to understand her background.

Gail Honeyman delves into the subject of loneliness and shows its impact on people we might cross paths with everyday, without ever paying attention to their suffering. Nevertheless, she manages to always keep a humorous, funny tone that softens this sad topic and makes Eleanor a pleasurable, entertaining read despite its seriousness. It might sometimes sound as if the author were trying too hard, but I gladly forgive her for this in light of my enjoyment!

It might be surprising to find that Eleanor is not a very likeable character; she has far too many preconceived ideas, is judgemental and often irritating. None of the characters is really likeable, actually, and I didn’t grow attached to any of them… And yet, the author’s message does come across, her emphasis on kindness, on the importance of details and human contact. In that sense, having not-so-endearing characters even is an asset: everyone deserves warmth, love, and compassion, no matter how flawed they are. We all have our bright sides, our dark sides, and change over time. And I have to admit it was not unpleasant to follow these characters’ evolution!

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer… A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud…”, thinks Eleanor. She might be right, she might be wrong, but loneliness certainly is was not discussed enough in our society when this book was released, at a time when everyone seemed to be connected and interacting through social media, living wonderful adventures and spending quality time with friends in trendy restaurants.

This might be changing, however. Woman’s Hour, for example, dedicated its programme to ‘Loneliness – the last taboo?‘ in November 2020, and the Covid crisis has probably brought some issues to light that we were prone to sweep under the carpet. So many people have spent lockdowns alone, sometimes in utter loneliness despite Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom. Not everyone has someone to call up. Not everyone is able to take a step towards the outside world.

Here is my favourite quote from the book:

“Noticing details, that was good. Tiny slivers of life – they all added up and helped you to feel that you, too, could be a fragment, a little piece of humanity who usefully filled a space, however minuscule.”

Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is full of teeny tiny messages that warm the readers’ heart. It could be reminiscent of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, which highlights the importance of small acts of kindness and benevolence for middle-grade readers (and adults!) These two books have different subject matters, of course, but they are both heart-warming and encourage discussions on difficult, sometimes uncomfortable topics.

The author clearly sets out her intentions in this short video, which gives a good idea of Eleanor‘s atmosphere:

My rating

To discover

It might not be the next Nobel Prize, I will probably not remember it forever, but Eleanor Oliphant was what I needed, when I needed it, and is deeper than it might seem at first glance.

Book details

Publisher: HarperCollins
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publication date: 25/01/2018 (first published in 2017)
Pages: 400
ISBN: 978-0008172145

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