Published by Harper Collins
ebook & hardback: 18 May 2017 | Paperback: 11 January 2018
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live
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 life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
Eleanor Oliphant is not really completely fine at all. She may think that she is, with her reclusive tendencies and her routines but, deep down, she cuts a very lonely figure, sometimes just longing for a human touch from another to reassure herself that she is alive.
Eleanor is 30 years old however if I hadn’t have known this at the beginning, I would have thought that she was about 70+, her grammar and vocabulary were so very precise and formal; referring to “public house”,“luncheon” and using the sign off “Eleanor Oliphant (Ms)” when sending informal internal emails to work colleagues – indeed, she seemed so unworldly and out of synch when it came to the minutiae of modern life that she could have been parachuted in from a previous century. She follows the exact same routine each day and each weekend, she has the same meal each night – only one pan to wash and each Friday night she buys herself a pizza and Chianti together with two bottles of vodka to see her through the weekend until she gets the bus to work on Monday morning. Her life would probably have continued in this way if it hadn’t have been for an accident involving a stranger.
Despite her quirky (but endearing ways) and often very rude and direct manner, I took Eleanor to my heart and just wanted to hug her (although she certainly wouldn’t have approved of such close personal contact!). She appeared to be at the back of the queue when tact and social interaction skills were handed out and I did squirm with embarrassment on her behalf when she went to a birthday celebration armed with half a bottle of opened vodka and a packet of cheese slices from her fridge as a birthday gift on the simple premise that ‘all men liked cheese’.
It is clear from the outset that Eleanor hasn’t had the best of times and that something bad has happened in her past with details being revealed in a piecemeal manner. However, once I knew the full story Eleanor’s behaviour is put into perspective. Eleanor’s story is carved into 3 parts – ‘Good Days’, ‘Bad Days’ (this section almost made me cry) and ‘Better Days’.
Eleanor’s story is one of self-preservation and discovery. She uses the familiarity of routine as a shield and comfort blanket and it is only when the opportunity for change is put in front of her does she start to dip her toes into the pool of life and start thinking about living instead of just existing.
There are some wonderful characters here – her IT work colleague Raymond whose kindness has such a significant impact on Eleanor’s regimented life (although she doesn’t make it easy for him). Sammy’s family, who although on the periphery have a hand in opening Eleanor’s eyes to the idea that there could be something more to life. Some of the funniest and most poignant moments for me happened during Eleanor’s makeover campaign undertaken to impress her ‘love crush’.
This is the author’s debut novel and was a delight to read. She writes beautifully and with such empathy for Eleanor that you could be laughing one moment and almost welling up the next. Eleanor’s voice is so clear throughout, whether by dialogue or just by articulating her thoughts that I could form a picture in my mind of how she would look and behave. Her education was far superior to mine – I really needed a dictionary to hand whilst reading this as in keeping with her precise use of the English language, there were quite a few words that I had to look up – ‘comestibles’ anyone? I don’t normally do this, but there were so many pages in this book that I had marked for a ‘Eleanor quote’ to refer to. I can’t possibly include them all but these are just a few of my favourites:
Talking about Bob, her boss “….Maybe he sensed, back then, that I would never aspire to anything other than a poorly paid office job, that I would be content to stay with the company and save him the bother of ever having to recruit a replacement. Perhaps he could also tell that I’d never need to take time off to go on honeymoon or request maternity leave. I don’t know”. (She seemed resigned as to what her future was likely to be and I found this just so sad).
Her views on the wedding present lists circulated by work colleagues – “Of all the compulsory financial contributions, this is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery”. (Actually, although I always contribute, I do tend to agree with her on this one!)
At one of her early encounters with Raymond he was wearing a duffle coat. …..“a duffle coat! Surely they were the preserve of children and small bears?…” (I’ve included this because it made me laugh).
And this final one produced a lump in the throat moment. “There are scars on my heart, just as thick, as disfiguring as those on my face. I know they’re there. I hope some undamaged tissue remains, a patch through which love can come in and flow out. I hope.”
If this hadn’t been offered to me for review, this book might well have passed me by and I would have missed out on this wonderful story but I am so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to read it and it could well be a contender for my book of the year list.
Eleanor and I didn’t always see eye to eye but I adored my time spent with her and felt quite bereft when I came to the end. I would love to read a follow up to Eleanor’s story. Do put this on your reading piles – you won’t regret it.
My thanks to Jaime and the publisher Harper Collins for the paperback ARC and the blog tour invitation
About the author:
Gail Honeyman is a graduate of the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress and is Honeyman’s debut novel. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.