Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: A review

Eleanor Oliphant is most definitely not completely fine. Certainly not when we first meet her.

Early on we become aware that something terrible happened to Eleanor in her childhood, something involving fire that has left her both physically and psychologically scarred. She is now thirty years old and she is isolated, lonely, alone. She has no friends or family. We learn that after "the incident" she grew up in foster homes and a group care home but she evidently never managed to make any kind of familial connection with any of the people she met along the way. Eleanor has no social skills, no artifice, and no filter. She says what she thinks and is essentially unaware of its effect on others.

Eleanor has worked for nine years as an accountant in a graphic design firm in Glasgow and has never been absent from work for one day. She has an inflexible routine which she follows slavishly. She is a figure of derision for her coworkers. After work, she goes home to the small apartment which the council social workers helped find for her years ago. She still receives visits from the social workers to check up on her twice a year. At night, she listens to the radio and on Wednesday night, she talks to "Mummy." Her sleeping aid of choice is vodka.

And that is the story of Eleanor Oliphant.

Then two things happen.

First, she sees a poster of a handsome and sophisticated young man who is the front man for a local band. She becomes completely obsessed with meeting him. She convinces herself that he is her soulmate, the love of her life and that they are destined to spend the rest of their lives together. She makes elaborate plans as to how she will meet him.

Second, her computer at work breaks and she is forced to call an IT guy.

His name is Raymond. He is rather slovenly in appearance and in behavior, falling far below Eleanor's standard for appropriate male image. He does know computers though and he fixes hers.

Sometime later, both Eleanor and Raymond happen to be walking on the street when they witness an elderly man collapse with his shopping bags. Eleanor's response is that the man must be drunk and they should ignore him. Raymond rushes to help. Thus, Eleanor feels compelled to follow.

How this act affects both of them and, indeed, the elderly man and his family is the rest of the story.

What a joy this book was to read! Eleanor Oliphant is a wonderful character. She is quirky and layered without feeling cheesy and made-up. She is so sad when we first meet her but so smart and blunt-spoken and often so unintentionally funny. She seems completely real and she completely engaged my sympathies. I just wanted to reach out and hug her, but I know she would never have permitted it.

It's only near the end of the book that we learn the full horror of her childhood and we understand why Eleanor is the way she is. But at last, with the help of a talented counselor and her friends (yes, she finally has friends!) we can see a way forward for her. 

I seriously did not want this book to end. I wanted to stay in Eleanor's world and watch her as she progresses toward a brighter future.

This, unbelievably, was Gail Honeyman's debut novel. She is a writer of enormous talent.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


  1. A book I meant to read last year and missed. It is now back on the "read soon" list! Great review.

    1. In spite of the tragedy at the heart of the story, it is ultimately a feel-good read and a mood lifter. Just what I needed!

  2. I keep mental notes of who reads what and recommends the books I get interested in. Somehow I thought you had already read/reviewed this book, probably because it seemed so familiar, but it must have been because of how often I saw it on my Amazon cartwheel. Anyways, I liked your review, which forces me now to read it at some point. Well done, Dorothy! And kudos to the debut author as well. :-)

    1. It had actually been languishing on my TBR list for a while. I'm glad I finally got to it.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver

Overboard by Sara Paretsky: A review

The Investigator by John Sandford: A review