Eleanor Oliphant is the oddest of odd ducks, created by Gail Honeyman in her 2017 debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Thanks to my IRL book group for suggesting it, as I probably wouldn’t have read it without them.
Eleanor has a way with words. In fact, it’s not hyperbole to say she’s a magnificent and prodigious over-describer. Honeyman describes every small bit of Eleanor’s world, using primarily internal dialogue. As a result, I felt part of Glasgow, Scotland for the duration of my listening adventure. Eleanor’s style takes some getting used to, but it’s essential to her unique voice. I recommend just sinking into her quirky storytelling and letting her reel you in.
The story Honeyman creates is simple enough. Eleanor is essentially a damaged person, who begins to heal during the book’s narrative. She goes from a loner to someone with a close friend or two. And her coping methods improve dramatically as well. I’m no expert on the topic of mental health, but it felt like Eleanor faced her demons in a realistic, somewhat nonlinear way.
Honeyman draws readers into her main character, measuring out details bit by bit. This is not exactly a murder mystery, but parts of Eleanor’s life story aren’t obvious, even to her. I was alternately caught up in her life and repelled by her personality. Ultimately the desire to see Eleanor survive and even thrive overtook my reactions to her somewhat tiresome over describing nature.
It’s not often an author can create a wholly original character and, in this case, Honeyman does a bang up job. She fully develops Eleanor and the supporting characters. And the charming audiobook narration gave them the necessary brogues and other speech patterns.
I should issue a trigger warning for people who find reading about mental illness challenging. When this book came out, I remember hearing it was pretty funny. But the humor can be dark and is used to balance some truly serious mental health topics. As it happens, I was watching the second season of Castle Rock during the same week I read this. Plus, I saw the very dark movie starring Joaquin Phoenix, Joker, in that week as well. It was definitely darkness overload, and I’d caution you against repeating my mistakes.
Nevertheless, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is completely unique and worth a go. I’m looking forward to discussing it with the mental health professionals in my book group.