Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: a Book Review

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman was my final read of 2017, and let me just say that reading wise, I couldn’t have said goodbye to 2017 on a higher note. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a beautifully rendered, intensely moving, profound work of fiction.Eleanor Oliphant is thirty-year-old woman who still has more than a little difficulty with socializing. She finds other people to be largely inappropriate, her co-workers whom she considers to be a group of bumbling idiots, ridicule her endlessly, and her social life is non-existent. That is until she lays on Johnnie Lomand, the love of her life. Johnnie is the lead singer of a local band, wears a stylish hat and leaves the bottom button of his jacket unbuttoned-the hallmark of a true gentleman. Upon seeing Johnnie for the first time, Eleanor decides to undergo a personal improvement project. She determines to makeover every part of herself, from the outside in. She starts with a Hollywood wax-to her utter horror, gets a manicure for the first time, gets the first haircut she has had since the age of 13, and buys a pair of shoes that don’t Velcro.

Human mating rituals are unbelievably tedious to observe. At least in the animal kingdom you are occasionally treated to a flash of bright feathers or a display of spectacular violence. Hair flicking and play fights don’t quite cut the mustard.

Simultaneously, Eleanor is also getting to know Raymond. Raymond works in the IT department of her office and never seems to wear appropriate foot–wear or T-shirts. However, after the pair rescues an elderly man who has fallen in the street they embark upon a shared journey and strike up an unlikely friendship. Eleanor decides to practice coming out of her shell with Raymond, and slowly she begins to realize that life can me more than just ‘fine.’

A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a potted plant, is she certifiable?

However, as the novel progresses, readers also realize that Eleanor is more complex than she initially seems. Her relationship with Mummy is strained to say the very least. Events from her past are coming back to torment her present and readers watch as she works her way through them. Although she resists at first, she bravely faces them head on and is able to make peace with her trauma.

The novel seems like it has the objective to raise awareness of mental illness. Eleanor is diagnosed with major depressive disorder but, it seems like she has other illnesses that she is coping with as well and I personally would have been interested to read about those a little more specifically. I was expecting to learn that she also had PTSD and Asperger’s but that isn’t really the point. I think the message was to demonstrate how Eleanor is affected by her illness and how she learns to cope with it. This is something that Honeyman did very well. I felt like it was a very truthful telling and didn’t feel like this message was heavy handed or preachy, the way that content with a moral objective often tends to be. Also interesting is the vocabulary used in the novel. Eleanor has an extensive vocabulary, forcing her readers to learn something through the course of the novel. It’s always interesting when an adult novel can present new information in an unobtrusive manner. I find it both refreshing and admirable.

I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.

In short, EleanorOliphantisCompletelyFine is the best kind of book. It has all of the trademarks of a good novel. Compelling, dimensional characters, humor, heart, and a radiant portrait of the human condition. I highly recommend it to all, and I think that everyone could benefit from reading it.

If you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (which I really hope you do,) and you enjoy (you will) a good book to read next would be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.


Author: Lee Ann Fryman

Lee Ann is a poet, fiction writer, and blogger located in Lexington, Kentucky. She received an MA in English from Northern Kentucky University, and has BAs in Theatre and English from Morehead State University.

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