Contemporary Literature

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

I grabbed this one at a used book sale a few months ago, after seeing tons of positive reviews for it. It’s been sitting on my shelf since then. Last week, I went ahead and posted on #bookstagram a stack of books that I am hoping to get to this summer, with a call for help. This undecided reader needed a nudge towards which one to pick up first. And this was, by far and away, the winner of the popular vote.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant has a very strict life schedule, from what she wears to what she eats to the way she spends each weekend. All of it is done alone, has been for years, and she’s completely fine with that. She’s logical and socially inept and comfortable just the way things are, thank you very much. But then one day, at a work event that she was very uninterested in attending, Eleanor spots her soul mate. And that moment kicks off a full shake up of Eleanor’s life, including saving a man’s life, attending parties, making friends and, in the biggest accomplishment of all, remembering, facing, and dealing with her incredibly difficult/tragic childhood.

Overall, I can absolutely see what all the fuss over this book was about. It’s quirky and charming and, once you get into it, hard to put down as you watch Eleanor grow and, there’s no other word for it, bloom. My first impression, upon starting this book, was that Eleanor was a sort of female Ove (Have you read A Man Called Ove? Do you agree?), and contrary to popular opinion, I felt iffy about Ove, so I got a little nervous about this one. And while that impression was actually spot on, for a variety of reasons, I’m happy to announce that I was much more into Eleanor. Anyways, Eleanor is a fantastic protagonist. And she was written to perfection. As we started reading her narrative, it was clear that something was off, but her voice was so sure of her isolation and confident in her strangeness that you couldn’t help but agree with her. She was comfortable and had things figured out – it’s ok to lead a normal, “unexciting” life, there’s comfort in that. But, as the story progresses and Eleanor starts to get out more, see other people, create relationships and experience new things, you together start to see how much was truly missing in her life. And watching her start to realize it, seeing what life can actually be like, is incredibly heartwarming.

The other major part of the plot is the slow reveal of the events of Eleanor’s childhood. It’s no spoiler to say that, from the very beginning there is something very off about her mother and that relationship. But it takes the entirety of the book to unfold. It’s wonderfully paced, keeping me turning page after page to get any little insight/detail, but never so slow that I lost interest. And wow, again, no spoilers, but boy is it a surprise when you get the whole story. I mean there are definitely parts of it that I guessed, but there was one twist that I absolutely did not seem coming and it was great. It’s also worth mentioning, but being alongside Eleanor as she remembers and comes to terms with everything, in her own way, is truly inspiring.

In the end, we are left with a slightly more socially adept and open-to-change Eleanor, but one who is still, at base, exactly who she always was…just bigger about it. It’s the exact right ending for her – nothing too much to be believable and enough to be satisfying. Kudos to Honeyman for writing one of the most idiosyncratic, individual, yet believable heroines. And I love when I am able to finish a book feeling so full of positive and life-affirming vibes. Just lovely.

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