Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Yes, I am on a roll this month but let’s not dwell on that.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant, the unconsciously witty, socially awkward, germaphobic and reclusive 30-year-old, who works in the finance department of a small firm in Glasgow. With her scarred face and troubled past, Eleanor is as critical about others as she is about herself.

I decided to make a refreshing cup of tea before I got started. I have my own mug and spoon, which I keep in my desk drawer for hygiene reasons. My colleagues think this strange, or at least I assume so from their reactions, and yet they are happy to drink from filthy vessels, washed carelessly by unknown hands. I cannot even countenance the notion of inserting a teaspoon, licked and sucked by a stranger barely an hour beforehand, into a hot beverage. Filthy.

Eleanor is alone and she is completely fine with her weekly calls from Mummy and her weekly bottles of vodka. A smart woman living with trauma from an incident; a house fire which happened 20 years ago.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Then a crush on a teenage musician sets her off in search of love, and a chance meeting with Raymond; a shabby, tardy and unhygienic IT guy at work while saving an elderly man’s life, forces Eleanor out of isolation and into a friendship that will save and change her life forever.

This is a really small book; 327 pages and I wish it were longer because it is so beautifully written and thoroughly enjoyable. For her debut novel, Gail Honeyman is phenomenal in her use of adjectives, which were as vivid as they were hilarious. She is a brilliant writer and I can’t wait to read her next work.

I remember thinking, as I put the phone down, that I really, really hoped that Janey wouldn’t bring in one of her homemade cakes to mark my return, as she often did when people had been off. Dry doesn’t even come close to describing the arid desert texture of her coffee-and-walnut sponge cake.

For most introverts, I think Eleanor is very relatable. We have a routine to our lives that keeps everything organized and have a way of keeping people at bay and limiting interaction till we deem it convenient. But like Eleanor, once in a while, something or someone comes along, shakes up your world and you are reluctantly thankful they did.

Another reason it’s such a great story is its perspective of mental health, which is relevant today. Like most people struggling with deep mental and emotional issues, Eleanor is a normal woman on the outside but deeply troubled and unable to help herself. Everything is fine until she hits rock-bottom and is trying to kill herself. This book shows how important it is to have good friends, who genuinely care about you. It also sheds light on how we can support people who are struggling emotionally.

In addition, this book also sheds light on child abuse by parents. The responsibilities associated with adult life and  parenting can be intense and it becomes easy to transfer aggression to unrelated situations and innocent people, including children. In my opinion, most Nigerian cultures encourage parents to be verbally and physically abusive, ignoring the fact that things we say and do to our children, positive or otherwise, have a profound impact on what they tell and believe about themselves, and who they eventually become as adults.

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Then it hit me in the face how hard it is to get professional psychological help here. Besides friends, family and Jesus, there’s hardly anywhere to go when you are struggling emotionally, and that’ is after convincing the former that you do need help, and telling you to “suck it up like everyone else” just wont cut it. Our healthcare system needs to dispel the stigma associated with needing a shrink, while we as friends need to understand that suffering is relative to each person’s capacity, and learn to actively listen and support people in need without putting them down.

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.” 

Reading this book, I knew someone had to make a movie out of it. I was ecstatic to discover that Reese Witherspoon was already working on one. Told in first person, this story is very focused and shows a gradual but distinctive evolution of the character’s thought process as she finds family and friendship, including unexpected plot twists that will certainly blow the minds of moviegoers. More importantly, it is a story most people can watch, enjoy and learn from. Finally, like an online crush, I am really looking forward to seeing Eleanor Oliphant in person.

Related: Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

On the down side, I felt the book was a wee bit too short. I really wanted to know all the gory detail in the social worker’s file. I wanted to read the police and autopsy reports on Eleanor Oliphant but I guess that’s just the Stephen King in me.

Summarily, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an entertaining, heart-warming story of yet another unconventional heroine’s personal journey to freedom from her past, and healing and happiness in her future. It is undoubtedly a story worth reading and one that makes you take the question “How are you? more seriously.

So tell me, how are you today? And don’t just say “Fine in the comment sections. I really would like to know how you genuinely feel, at least today.


Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman? Let me know what you think or at least how you are in the comments!
As always, thank you for reading!

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8 replies

  1. You’re sure on a roll and I am enjoying the titles you’ve been reading.

    Oh, and I’m fine. Like really.
    I normally give more than the routine I’m fine answer when asked how I am. But today I feel fine and I’m fine.

    Liked by 1 person

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