Book Review: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman

I rarely buy books in airports – they’re tempting but bulky and I usually opt for a Lovatts find-a-word instead. But when I was on my way to Brisbane, I was flipping through Elenaor Oliphant is Completely Fine in the airport bookstore and instantly fell into the rhythm of the story. I had to know what was on the next page, so I picked it up and finished it about 5 days later (unprecedentedly speedy by my standards!).

The novel is about a curiously regimented woman named Eleanor and told through her first-person perspective. She goes through life with perfectly-refined routines: a sandwich Meal Deal every day, eaten whilst completing the Daily Telegraph crossword; a visit to Marks & Spencer every Friday; pesto pasta dinner on weeknights (“one pan and one plate”); Tesco margherita pizza and wine on Friday evening; two bottles of vodka throughout the weekend; a phone call with her incarcerated mummy on Wednesday nights. From the outset, Eleanor is a fully functioning young adult with all her ducks in a row.

However, she’s not. It’s hinted at in the start of the book and then rapidly revealed that Eleanor is very much a loner and not well adjusted to modern social standards at all. She makes a friend which then leads to many new experiences we all take for granted but befuddle Eleanor immensely (sharing a drink at a pub, going to a music concert, eating McDonald’s, wearing make up, buying a mobile phone, going on twitter, being waxed, and having an unyielding crush). It is utterly entertaining to read Eleanor’s thoughts as she enters the world of socialising and not merely existing functionally but, rather, joyously.

There is also a sinister past that is alluded to throughout the book, which gives reason for why Eleanor lives the way she does. She is a victim of trauma but for most of the story, you’re unaware of what exactly that is. Eleanor has a lot of pride and is by no means someone to be pitied. But her story strongly vouches for how we are shaped by our experiences through life.

My favourite aspect of this book was the writing style. The characterisation is so rich and engaging – you can easily imagine Eleanor being a living, breathing human. The use of vocabulary is great, too. There were lots of words I had to look up but I enjoyed that. And at no point was it alienating. Other authors that I compared this book to were Celeste Ng (Little Fires Everywhere) and Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) who both write page-turners with strong focus on characterisation. However, I think that Eleanor Oliphant reads the most effortless and accessible. I think it succeeds in being highly sophisticated and totally un-intimidating.

My final comment is that the I adored the descriptions of food! I think that Eleanor Oliphant/Gail Honeyman would make an incredible food writer. And, so, I shall end my review with one of my favourite quotes, a description of a McDonald’s filet-o-fish:

After some contemplation, I had opted for a square of indeterminate white fish, which was coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried and then inserted between an overly sweet bun, accompanied, bizarrely, by a processed cheese slice, a limp lettuce leaf, and some salty, tangy white slime which bordered on obscenity.