‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

In adulthood, few things take me by surprise anymore. Ever since hearing about Richard Gere and gerbils, watching Honey Boo Boo drink a litre of Go-Go juice, or seeing Trump elected president, I am basically unshockable. Picking up a copy of Gail Honeyman’s debut in the airport, my expectations weren’t sky high but this novel was refreshingly surprising. While the initial chapters felt like an easy summer read, Eleanor Oliphant’s life (or rather shell of an existence) hooks the reader with increasingly awkward social situations and toxic relationships.

‘Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don't need anyone, you can take care of yourself.’

Eleanor thinks she’s in control. Her routine is regimental, but empty. A recluse, her weekends are spent drinking two litres of Glen’s vodka and a bottle of wine. Every Wednesday the only phone call is from ‘mommy dearest’. She works Monday to Friday 8.30am–5.30pm. Never takes sick days (and seldom even holidays); her constitution is tougher than that of her incompetent colleagues. But when Eleanor becomes obsessed with the lead singer in a band, her humble project and ‘profound loneliness’ leads her to a nervous breakdown.

‘If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.’

We spend most of the novel thinking there’s something ‘not quite right’ about Eleanor. The way she views the world is often hilarious, and you hope you’re laughing with her. Having recently discovered that it’s customary to not come to a party emptyhanded, Eleanor decides to take half a bottle of vodka, ‘I pondered what else I should take for him. Flowers seemed wrong; they're a love token, after all. I looked in the fridge, and popped a packet of cheese slices into the bag. All men like cheese.’

There are amazing acts of kindness in the novel, as well as exposing the more hideous capabilities of the people who’ve touched Eleanor’s life before now. It’s hard to believe the novel was discovered through a writing competition by a 40-something author who writes like a virtuoso! Just when it starts feeling predictable, Honeyman fractures the storyline by undermining previous perception. This novel is an excellent read. Commercial fiction at its best!

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