Skip to main content

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Review

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

At the age of 29, Eleanor Oliphant has her life pretty well figured out. Every day, she wears the same blouse, skirt and jerkin, with the same Velcro-fastened orthopedic shoes. Every day, she takes the bus through Glasgow to her job as an accounts clerk at a graphic design firm. And every day, she goes home in the evening to a sensible dinner and the cryptic crossword. On Friday after work, she fills her shopping trolley with Tesco’s frozen pizza and several large bottles of vodka, which she proceeds to drink until she passes out, wakes up on Monday and starts the whole thing over again. Why would she need to change anything?

Eleanor has always been slightly perplexed by the habits of other people, from her colleagues at work to the people she encounters in her travels by bus and in the line at the grocery store. She doesn’t have much use for other people, nor, she imagines, do they have much use for her. So when, in quick succession, she finds herself the object of overtures of friendship from her office’s new IT guy, Raymond, and then she and Raymond save the life of an elderly stranger, Sammy, Eleanor is unexpectedly thrown into a series of social interactions for which she is quite unprepared.

"Readers will cheer for Eleanor to succeed, and they will be sorry to part ways with her idiosyncratic voice and outlook when they reach the final page of her story."

Much to Eleanor’s surprise, she likes having a reason to disrupt her routine, joining Raymond for lunch at a nearby café or visiting Sammy in the hospital. But unbeknownst to either of them and egged on by her absent mother, Eleanor is also secretly embarking on a self-improvement project with another aim in mind --- she is determined to attract the attention of the object of her undying affection: the lead singer of a local band, who doesn’t (yet!) know she exists.

Eleanor Oliphant’s story is the very definition of pathos. Eleanor, though she doesn’t initially realize it, has constructed an armor of routine and indifference around herself, a shield that makes her the object of ridicule at times but also protects her from a horrific past she’s managed to forget almost entirely. Eleanor’s efforts at self-improvement, as well as her blunt honesty in her dealings with strangers, offer plenty of moments of genuine hilarity. But as the story progresses, and as her friendship with Raymond, in particular, forces her to confront the loneliness that has been her constant (and, at times, only) companion for the past 20 years, Eleanor’s quirks take on a real poignancy, and her realization of a need for human contact becomes not only a form of maturation but also bravery.

“The scalp massage at the hairdressers, the flu jab I had last winter --- the only time I experience touch is from people I am paying, and they are almost always wearing disposable gloves at the time,” Eleanor reflects during her darkest moments. Finding a way to let other people past that armor she’s so carefully constructed --- even if it means addressing the terrible things that lie beneath the surface --- is Eleanor’s journey and struggle. Readers will cheer for Eleanor to succeed, and they will be sorry to part ways with her idiosyncratic voice and outlook when they reach the final page of her story.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 11, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman

  • Publication Date: May 9, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
  • ISBN-10: 0735220689
  • ISBN-13: 9780735220683