Classic Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Kindle Edition)

Posted: February 11, 2018 in Books

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old, born and raised in England.  She works in a non-descript office in the accounts receivable department of a graphic design company.  She has no friends, inside or outside work, doesn’t believe in office politics but she does talk to her mother regularly, every Wednesday, like clockwork. Mummy’s been institutionalized. Eleanor has also developed a crush on a local rock singer, Johnny Lomond.  She thinks he is “the one.”

One day, Eleanor’s computer at work gets the dreaded blue screen, so she calls the help desk.  Raymond Gibbons fixes her computer, she asks Raymond if he knows of a good laptop she can buy, but she has an ulterior motive, she wants to do research on her new crush.  She gets the laptop and starts the research right away, she starts learning everything about Johnny through the internet and starts planning where she should meet him.  She tells her mummy about her plan, and mummy encourages it, mummy wants her to meet the right man. Eleanor’s last relationship did not go well.

While leaving work together, Eleanor and Raymond see an old man fall down drunk on the street, and hit his head on the pavement.  Eleanor wants to leave him there with his spilled groceries on the street, to do more research on Johnny, but Raymond encourages her to  keep him talking, which is hard because Eleanor is a social misfit..  She talks to the old drunk, whose name is Sammy, the EMT takes Sammy to the local hospital where he is in a coma, but he comes out of it, and surprise, surprise Eleanor grows fond of Sammy.

The friendship with Sammy also brings her closer to Raymond, who invites Eleanor to meet his mum.  Eleanor and Mrs. Gibbons hit it off too, and she also becomes fast friends with Sammy’s daughter, Laura, who’s a hairdresser and does Eleanor’s hair.  Eleanor’s hair goes from a mousy brown to a trendy blonde.  Eleanor is also dressing better, and giving herself a smoky eye makeover at the Bobbi Brown makeup counter, all with an eye to impressing Johnny, the musician, but the new look also has other benefits, she is suddenly up for a promotion at work and planning the Christmas party.

Does she get up the nerve to meet the musician?

I like this book a lot, some people would derisively call it “chick lit”, that means it’s supposed to be exclusively for women, but that categorization never dissuaded me, one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, so I plunged right in.  Ms. Honeyman, the author, does a good job of creating a character in Eleanor, who’s an iconoclast, and funny, yet lonely vulnerable and a social neophyte.  If that was the whole book, it would remind me a lot of Bridget Jones.  It does remind me of Bridget Jones for its acerbic humor, but there is much more to this book than an average rom com.

The author does a good job of making Eleanor a sympathetic character, despite the rough edges, so the reader is happy when her social interactions go well, and badly when she stumbles.  Reading this character is like watching a child take its first steps, it’s that visceral a reaction to the character because the author has imbued Eleanor with universal attitudes.  We all feel a bit superior to others at times, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves or others.  We all feel joy when we realize we’ve made a good friend.  We all feel the despair of loneliness.   Eleanor’s mix of confidence and vulnerability make her eminently relatable.

The author sets up three choices for Eleanor, she either doesn’t meet the musician at all, she meets, the musician and it goes well, or she doesn’t meet the musician at all.  It takes Ms. Honeyman a while to get to the more serious issues in this book, but when she gets there, the reader feels the weight of those issues and their effect on Eleanor, it would have been a bit more realistic if those issues were addressed earlier, but it was more dramatic to wait towards the end of the book.

The quibble I have with this book, is that the supporting characters didn’t have enough complexity to them.  While Eleanor had a lot of facets to her personality, Mummy, Raymond, Sammy,  Laura and the musician, are surprisingly one dimensional.  Some of these characters should have had more sides to them.  Humans are complicated beings.

The ending features one more twist, and is surprisingly understated.  I liked the ending.  The book itself a quick read, even when Eleanor’s emotions get complex, the humor makes it an enjoyable read.  Sadly, by the end of her journey, Eleanor loses some of the edge that made her so appealing, and becomes a bit too weepy.

Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine.  Ignore the Oliphant in the room at your own risk.

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