Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine



There are 51 on the waiting list at my library for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

Who could not like a heroine who says things like: You can’t have too much dog in a book,  or that the Social Worker visits her to make sure that I’m not storing my own urine in demijohns or kidnapping magpies and sewing them into pillowcases, or, when she gets the full cosmetic treatment in a department store:

‘I look like a small Madagascan primate, or perhaps a North  American raccoon. It’s charming!’ 143

When someone gives her a helium balloon

‘What is it supposed to be?’ I said, ‘Is it…is it cheese?’ I had never been given a helium balloon before…

‘It’s SpongeBob, Eleanor,’ he said, speaking very slowly and clearly as though I were some kind of idiot. ‘SpongeBob Square Pants?’

A semi-human bath sponge with protruding front teeth!… For my entire life people have said that I’m strange, but really when I see things like this, I realize that I’m actually relatively normal.  282

 A lot of the popularity of the book is down to the fact that it’s an ugly-duckling-becomes-sort-of-swan tale, with a childhood abuse mystery thrown in.  But it’s a lot better than the cliché suggests. It has the charm of The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time, with a narrator so far out of the mainstream than she casts a new light on what we think of as “normal” life.  Eleanor’s descriptions of people “enjoying” themselves at a dance, or her frequent observation of the poor people-skills of those in what she calls “people-facing” jobs are very funny. Here she is discussing whether she should accept the offer of a job as office manager:

‘Well,’ I said, ‘on the plus side, I would get more money…On the other hand, it would entail more work and more responsibility. And the office is largely staffed by shirkers and idiots, Raymond. Managing them and their workload would be quite a challenge, I can assure you.’

He snorted with laughter then coughed – it appeared that his cola had gone down the wrong way.

‘I see your point,’ he said. ‘What it boils down to, is the extra money worth the extra hassle?’

‘Quite,’ I said, ‘you’ve summarized my dilemma very neatly.’ 185

Eleanor is the victim of a dark childhood whose details she won’t let herself remember,  and a vindictive Mummy who won’t let her go. Even though Mummy seems to be in prison for an unspecified crime, every Wednesday she’s on the phone needling Eleanor, rubbing in what a useless lump of human tissue she is.  That’s how it’s been for the last ten years, until an instant crush on a singer, and a street accident involving an old man, throw Eleanor out of the safe rut of a life in which she prides herself on being a self-contained entity.

 No, it’s not a new story or even especially deep, but it’s told with such wit and is so full of trenchant observation that you’d be an old curmudgeon not to enjoy it.  Curl up on the sofa for an afternoon and give yourself a treat.


8 thoughts on “Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

  1. Sounds delightful. Have to entirely agree with the line about Sponge-Bob Square-Pants — when she sees it, she understands that she is OK, and that there are many people out there whose normalcy might reasonably be questioned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s