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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

By November 1, 2022August 10th, 2023No Comments

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

One read of the back cover blurb of Gail Honeyman’s debut novel , Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and I was hooked:

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 existence. Except, sometimes, everything …

There was so much hinted-at depth, pent-up emotion, and tragicomedy in those few sentences that it simply had to be read. As a reader, I couldn’t wait to dive between the pages and as a writer, it represented a masterclass in the power of getting your back cover blurb spot on.

Synopsis of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Narrated by Eleanor herself, we immediately gain an insight into her existence; the mundanity of her job, her health neuroses and the assertiveness borne of one who’s had a lifetime’s practice at getting across to the world just how perfectly capable she is. And she is. Eleanor is whip-smart with a razor wit and a level of general knowledge worthy of a Mastermind contestant.

“I’m a sole survivor. I am a self-contained entity.” She tells us.

Then Eleanor Oliphant falls in love and all the carefully choreographed pattern of her life, falls with her.

Falling for a handsome and famous-ish rock star isn’t easy when you’re Eleanor Oliphant to whom personal grooming is as alien a concept as becoming an astronaut is to the rest of us. And it’s not helped by the white, ridged scar that brandishes Eleanor’s right cheek, a permanent reminder of a mysterious childhood fire.

But love conquers all and Eleanor sets out to redesign herself, from the outside in. What ensues is a journey of discovery into the world of waxing, tanga knickers and make-up. At times hilarious and frequently cringe-worthy, we share Eleanor’s attempts at transforming herself from the office ‘weirdo’ into a sex object worthy of the attention of her, as yet not even spoken to, love.

‘She pushed the paper pants to one side and asked me to pull the skin taut. Then she painted a strip of warm wax onto my pubis with a wooden spatula, and pressed a strip of fabric onto it. Taking hold of the end, she ripped it off in one rapid flourish of clean, bright pain.
Morituri te salutant,‘ I whispered, tears pricking my eyes.’

A dodgy desktop at work brings Eleanor into contact with Raymond, a typical IT geek, all round nice guy, and one of a very select set of co-workers who don’t judge her on either her looks or her behaviour.

When Eleanor and Raymond witness an old man falling and, on Raymond’s insistence, they help him, their lives become linked and for the first time in her life, Eleanor Oliphant finds herself having to deal with a social life.

My Review

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a witty and engrossing tale of one woman’s journey to come to terms with a childhood trauma. There’s nothing sickly sweet or condescendingly pitiful going on here. Eleanor’s story is told with the same strength of character and use of humour to mask feelings too painful to acknowledge, as countless people practice throughout their lives. But Gail Honeyman’s ability to endear Eleanor to us and to allow us to share in her slow and painful journey to self-realisation is superb. For a debut novel, it’s exceptional.

I’ve read a great many superb novels since returning to the UKStill Life, Small Pleasures, Life after Life, to name just a few – and this is right up there in the top quartile. Recommended unreservedly. And if you’ve already read it, I’d love to know if you enjoyed it as much as I did.


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