With Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Honeyman has gifted the reader with an incredible protagonist for the reader to get their teeth stuck into. Eleanor Oliphant is extraordinary. She has grown up living her life in a major city, however she has somehow enabled herself to shun the people who she works with. Any contact she has with them she keeps to a minimum. On the weekend she drinks vodka excessively until Monday comes around again. She has no visitors, no knocks on the door. The phone never rings. The only reason for her to venture out into society, leaving the safety of her hermit existence, is to shop for the necessities. Eleanor is intensely lonely, the major theme of the book. Eleanor has reconciled herself to this solitary existence, when suddenly she thinks that she has found the man of her dreams, her soulmate. However, and this gives the reader a good example of how socially delusional Eleanor is, this man is the lead singer of a local band that she has never even met or spoken to. Yet Oliphant believes emphatically that they are meant to be together and it will happen. The encounters and conversations she has with shop assistants while shopping and preparing for her first encounter with the singer are hilarious. While all of this is going on, Honeyman keeps the reader glued to the page with the weekly phone calls from Eleanor’s mother. At the start of the book we are given no clue as to who Oliphant’s father is or why her mother is incarcerated. From just the first few calls, we can see that the mother, although imprisoned, still controls Eleanor’s life and is the cause for the state of her isolation. Her mother delights in belittling and verbally abusing Eleanor. Most of the calls end in tears. Whenever Eleanor seems to be making progress to improve her life, a call from her mother is powerful enough to smash her confidence and shatter her self-esteem. Eleanor also has a burn scar on her face, the origin of which we are again not told, but lead the reader to believe that there has been abuse in her childhood. I loved this book. It has one of the most inventive, enjoyable characters I have read for a long time. It has its light funny side, and obversely, a deep dark side which keeps the reader riveted. It also deals with loneliness, an issue which often flies under the radar in the list of problems that many silently face in isolation. There is a vast difference from being alone and being lonely. Some people like to live alone, but many are suffering in silence, and loneliness usually leads to mental problems such as depression. I applaud Honeyman for broaching this problem. There is a nice, if a little predictable, twist at the end. Time to rip out the old cliché again. For a debut, this book is tremendous in almost every aspect. Thoroughly enjoyable. 4 Stars.
Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust's Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4's Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.
There is a great podcast interview with Gail at READING WOMEN, here is the link - https://www.readingwomenpodcast.com/blog/interview-with-gail-honeyman