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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

By Hannah M Smith, on 24 April 2018

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018

With her debut novel and Sunday Times Best Seller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman presents us with the pulling down of the walls that Eleanor, the protagonist, has built as a self-defence mechanism to a horrendous past and a present wrenching feeling caused by loneliness and social isolation. Eleanor Oliphant declares she is absolutely fine but, in truth, there is only thing that can scare her more than to be “left all alone” and that is to be “left with her”, her manipulative and conniving mother.

Thanks to a fruitless juvenile crush on a local singer and – in Eleanor’s view – a dull and ill-mannered IT guy, Raymond, Eleanor gradually familiarizes herself with social conventions, sheds lingering guilt and begins to realize she deserves happiness. The readers witness Eleanor’s outward and inward metamorphose which transpires little by little as Honeyman does not fail to implant the ways resistance acts against change, even if it is a welcoming and positive one.

Raymond is a ray of hope in Eleanor’s dark tendencies and it becomes clear for the reader through digging – not so deep – beneath Eleanor’s words that he is a kind-hearted and loyal friend. Their bond, although recent, quickly becomes profound and their relationship tantalizes the readers’s appetite for a developing romance far more desirable than Eleanor’s daydreaming about her crush on a local singer.

Throughout the book which is organized in the “good”, the “bad” and the “better days”, Eleanor ventures to convince more herself than us that she is completely fine. Gail Honeyman presents us first with the good days in Eleanor’s life which are strikingly rife with the haunting effects of scarring incidents and reverberating loneliness’ overtones. The funny, eccentric, and unintentionally rude Miss Oliphant often fails to find the golden ratio of being fine, and the readers follow her when she feels at her prime for the first time in her thirty years of living and when she falls down to the abyssal depths of loneliness and depression.

In her efforts to re-organise her life, Eleanor is required to abandon her most entrenched and comforting element which is her everyday routine comprised of repetitive office work, Tesco pizza and cheap vodka. I often felt the urge to grab Eleanor by her shoulders and tell her she is the rude one in most of the situations and it is impossible she cannot fathom that the singer is completely unaware of her existence. Nonetheless, although she comes across as quirky and inconsiderate, Miss Oliphant only desires to be honest and she always had “been aiming for pleasant and friendly”. The narration continuously reminds the reader the problem of making assumptions and how easy it can be to pass judgement standing on a vantage point.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine upsets the false premise of normality in family life as Eleanor makes the characters around her and readers alike to reconsider before taking happiness and social relationships for granted. At the bottom line, having family and friends is not a given but a privilege. As the book moves forward, Eleanor bends the reader with her moving story and insightful comments of her surroundings. Prepare yourself to counter comic outbreaks following Eleanor’s sharp observations, misjudgements and detailed stream of consciousness that amply offer cathartic and enjoyable moments.

Not ever before being an outcast has been so relatable, quotidian and purely honest. Eleanor ceaselessly fights to “disappear into everywoman [and everyone’s] acceptability”, forgetting midway to accept herself. However, she finds the courage to receive help and pick herself up. This is the book for the precise moment you determine to keep going against adversity or you decide to be more understanding and empathetic towards other people’s struggles. The book, in a word, is humane.

Sotiria Kalpachtsi

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is published by HarperCollins