Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman had been all over my Twitter timeline long before I finally decided to read it. Most of the bloggers and booktubers whose trust in books praised the book for its portrayal of a complex and unlikable female main character following a trend in contemporary fiction that calls for more diverse representations of women beyond smiling and supportive secondary characters. And as much as I love a subversive woman in fiction (and in real life), books widely praised in this category did not really do it for me. I found Eileen by Otesa Mosfegh offensive for crime fiction fans, especially after her snobbish remarks about the genre, and though I race through Maria Semple’s books – that Where’d You Go, Bernadette? cover is too iconic to forget – I do not really follow her as an author. But Honeyman did it. The Scottish author wrote a novel about a complex and unlikable character whose struggle to lead a “normal” gets her in some trouble.
Eleanor Oliphant is 26 and lives in Edinburgh. She works at an office where she is not really liked by her co-workers, and she doesn’t understand why. She says exactly what she thinks, and she adheres to a strict weekly schedule that makes her life easy: Eat pizza call Mummy, and get drunk with vodka. Rinse and repeat every Sunday night. But one day Eleanor meets someone who will change her life forever: Raymond “the IT guy” arrives at Eleanor’s desk to fix her computer and make her question her whole life. But why is Eleanor the way she is? Is she just lacking social skills? Or is there something more? And what role will Raymond play in Eleanor’s life? Well, you’ll have to read the novel to find out.
I really enjoyed Honeyman’s tragicomic portrayal of Eleanor which masterfully moves from compassion to dislike. Also, the whole novel begs a very important question: What happens if we take the troubled, socially unskilled and popular main character – see Seldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory or Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock – and change her gender? Are women allowed to be “special” too? All I can (no spoilers!) is yes. Honeyman goes beyond the “female quirky” tradition and creates a complex female character that has a lot more to offer than simply breaking societal and gender norms and being funny because of it. Eleanor has depth, she is troubled, and some of her struggles will resonate with young women everywhere.
The story also refuses to avoid the traditional guy-meets-troubled-girl-and-helps-her-become-“normal” timeline. Though Raymond is certainly key to the development of the story, he helps Eleanor probably as much as Eleanor helps him. The relationship between these two characters evolves in an organic way free of any romantic or friendship Hollywood clichés and certainly keeps in mind these two people are supposed to be human beings, with many things to celebrate and many, many flaws.
So, if you were living in a cave for the past 6 months like I did and you still haven’t read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine believe the buzz and go get a copy. The novel has been extremely popular and it’ll be easy to get a used copy or borrow it from your local library.