I must admit, I wasn’t all that curious about Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine when I first started seeing it all over #bookstagram. I mean, the main character is completely fine, right? What’s interesting about that? But then I started reading more about it beyond the title, when it topped the Dymocks 101 back in 2019, and my curiosity was piqued. Maybe there was more to this super-mega-best-seller than meets the eye…?
Eleanor, the titular character, is a bit of an odd duck (but, it turns out, she has good reason to be). She has a routine for everything: work, meals, chats with Mummy, vodka, and that’s about it. She doesn’t have any friends or social engagements. Eleanor Oliphant lives a lonely life. But she’s completely fine with that!
Her routine is disrupted when she decides a local musician on the come up is her soul mate, and begins changing her life and her appearance in preparation for their inevitable romance. It starts with a bikini wax, then a manicure, then a whole new look. These changes ripple out: soon, she’s made friends with Raymond, the office IT guy, and the older man they found passed out in the street. Although she resists these new friendships at first – she’s completely fine, after all! – she finds that, far from draining and distracting her, they actually bring her joy and a sense of fulfillment. Imagine that!
The prose is surprisingly good, and the story is really well-paced. It’s compelling, without feeling like it’s racing by. Honeyman is the master of the gradual reveal, too. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine has a lot of secrets to spring on the reader. Around page 30, you find out Eleanor has a distinctly scarred face. Around page 50, you learn it may be related to a house fire, or maybe her rotten relationship with Mummy. Ten pages after that, Eleanor reveals she was in a horribly abusive relationship in her early twenties, too. The exposition is gradual, and you have to be paying close attention to put all the pieces together.
It should be clear by now that this is far from your standard pick-me-up fare. Eleanor Oliphant has a troubled past on many fronts, which goes a long way to explaining her solitary lifestyle and… odd way of relating to people. There’s a lot more trauma in Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine than I was expecting – it’s closer to Sharp Objects or When I Was Ten than The Rosie Project or The Helpline. Trigger warnings for domestic violence, abuse, alcoholism, suicidality, grief and loss.
Eleanor is a somewhat unreliable narrator, not that she intends to be. She just has a very unusual perspective, on herself and the world, and often the reader learns more from what she doesn’t say than what she does. For example, even though Eleanor constantly affirms how “fine” she is with being alone, she’s clearly desperately lonely and touch-starved; Honeyman zooms in on every moment of physical contact for Eleanor, no matter how fleeting, to highlight just how rare it is for her. It’s beautifully done, and more than a little heart-wrenching. I can see why so many readers fell in love with Eleanor, and her strong cast of supporting characters.
I was really satisfied with the ending, too. I won’t “give it away”, but I will say that all the plotlines come to a natural conclusion. Best of all, there’s no magic wand, no silver-bullet, no quick-fix happily-ever-after. Eleanor ends Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine in a much better position than she begins it, but all her problems don’t magically disappear.
I’m really surprised that Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine hasn’t made it to the silver screen, yet. In 2017, Reese Witherspoon announced that her company Hello Sunshine had optioned the film rights, and there have been a few other minor production and funding announcements, but nothing else since. I’m sure, whenever they pull their fingers out and get it to theaters, it’ll be an instant hit.
Until then, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is highly re-readable, and will surely give your brain a lot to chew on. Definitely more than you’d expect from a beach read!
My favourite Amazon reviews of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine:
- “It really is not as described: it’s about mental health; it’s dark, it’s sad and it’s hardly hilarious unless you are a sociopath.” – rainman
- “I received this book as a gift. How do you write a thank you note and say “thank you for the most boring and depressing book I’ve ever read” ? I have forced myself to continue reading to chapter 17 as the gift giver said she enjoyed it!! May need a Zoloft or two to finish reading.” – Penny D
- “This is the type of book where you only read it when you are bored to death on a 20 hour plane ride in coach. And with 5 pages left when the plane lands, you don’t even bother to finish it later.” – Darren