Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: 'Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is a thirty-year old woman whose horrendous childhood left her scarred physically and emotionally. She spends her weekdays as a finance clerk at a graphic design company in Glasgow, and drinks herself to sleep on the weekends. Her clothing is unfashionable, she has appalling social skills, and her colleagues openly deride her. Eleanor is the narrator of Gail Honeyman's splendid character study about a pathetic and depressed individual who tries to hide her psychological pain behind a façade of indifference. She asserts, "I have always taken pride in managing my life alone."

One reason that "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is so compelling is that the heroine is educated and highly intelligent (she has a superb vocabulary, using such words as "descant," "hamartia," and "de trop" with ease). In addition, she is practical, efficient, organized, and has high standards, at least where other people are concerned. If someone has poor table manners, looks scruffy, or fails to treat her with respect, she is quick to find fault. Fate intervenes when Eleanor meets an equally awkward but extremely kind person at her firm, Raymond Gibbons, who has recently been hired by the IT department. Eleanor and Raymond strike up a friendship. They take walks, share meals, visit the sick and elderly, and develop a relationship based on mutual respect.

Although there is a great deal of irony and humor in this book (much of it at Eleanor's expense), it is also incredibly moving. The author keeps secrets from us, and we are curious to learn what terrible experiences made Eleanor into a solitary, insecure, and closed-in adult. When the truth finally emerges, it is chilling and shocking. Honeyman wisely avoids clichés and pat solutions in this entertaining, involving, and beautifully written novel. We empathize with Eleanor as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery. "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is a bittersweet story about a damaged individual who has "a lot of things to work through" if she hopes to emerge from her self-imposed isolation.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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