Review: Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine
By Gail Honeyman

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Fine. Think of that word for a moment. Fine. We blurt it out when asked how we are or how the kids are or how the soup is. But in this particular novel, Eleanor Oliphant is anything but. What she is will surprise you, maybe even scare you a bit, certainly she’ll teach you a few things and I just know, in the end, you will come to love her. I did.
Told entirely in first person, we see the world through Eleanor’s eyes. I should note that this is not an exciting, adventure-filled tale full of lofty thoughts and delightful characters that race through life and blast off into the sunset. Hardly. It’s a revelation of what it’s like to live on the very edge of life. To exist as almost a shadow-person. Eleanor is someone we all have known and seen and passed by. And, she deserves a closer look.
This is author Honeyman’s debut novel, I had to check to make sure, the writing is that of a well-seasoned blockbuster. The way she skillfully weaves Eleanor’s tattered and dark and mysterious life into something vital is at the core of why this tale matters. We learn early on that Eleanor has a very scared face, that she lives alone, works as an accounts receivable clerk in an office and routine and order rule. Each Wednesday, like clockwork, she speaks on the phone to her mummy. Keep in mind, Eleanor is nearly thirty.
“It’s only been a week, I know, but it feels like an age since we last spoke, Mummy. I’ve been so busy with work and—She cut across me, nice as pie on this occasion, switching her accent to match mine. That voice; I remembered it from childhood, heard it still in my nightmares.”
Socially, this woman is a totally inept. Not only does she lack a clue as to how humans interact socially, she has pretty much simply given in to the fact that she will most likely always live alone. And then a musician catches her eye while all the time Raymond, the IT guy at her work-place, hovers on into her strange life. She justifies her very existence with simple facts as only she can see them.
“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”
And this.
“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it, once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself. You can’t protect other people, however hard you try. You try, and you fail, and your world collapses around you, burns down to ashes.”
Though the ending seemed pretty pat, by the time you get there, you are ready for some happy. Author Honeyman manages to NOT show any self-pity toward her quirky character and the sudden twist at the end, well, it will make you wonder. And that’s the sign of a really good read.
• You know an Eleanor
• Are you an Eleanor?

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