Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, has received incredible critical acclaim over the past few months, thus I felt obliged to make an (albeit amateur) judgement of the author’s first work of fiction.
The novel focuses around introvert and social pariah, Eleanor, whose days centre around the monotony of vodka, frozen pizza and weekly phone calls with ‘Mummy’. However, Eleanor’s strict routine is shattered by the likes of Raymond, her charismatic and unhygienic co-worker from IT. Brought together through a kind deed, Raymond introduces our reluctant protagonist to a bizarre new world of friendship, kindness and Magner’s cider. Only adding to the excitement, Eleanor also attempts to navigate the rocky plains of romantic love as readers witness her fall for a handsome and elusive musician – however, is Johnnie Lomond all Eleanor has built him up to be in her mind?
Her character does not appear to experience any withdrawal symptoms, nor is her longing for alcohol touched upon again
The unique narrative style of the novel is particularly engaging as the protagonist exhibits an unusual, and often comic, attitude towards the world and its inhabitants. However, as the novel progresses, Eleanor’s complete inability to interact with others and her disdain for social norms transforms her character into a caricature of how Honeyman believes socially awkward and mentally scarred people to be. For example, Eleanor went to university and has worked in finance at a graphic design company for nine years, yet readers are expected to believe that she does not know the difference between a laptop, a desktop and a mobile? It must be considered strange that a woman who has been exposed to the harsh realities of the world from such a young age (she is passed around within the system following her mother’s attempt to kill her and her sister) appears to be completely oblivious as to its workings.
A further glaring pitfall of this novel is the plot-line surrounding Eleanor’s alcoholism. Is it possible that after drinking herself to sleep for years to block out her pain and at one point even suffering alcohol poisoning, that she is able to simply make the decision to stop drinking? Her character does not appear to experience any withdrawal symptoms, nor is her longing for alcohol touched upon again. When paired with the over-the-top nature of her character, limits the sympathy we may feel for our protagonist as her believability, and thus our ability to relate to her, lessens as her story continues.
If compelled to ignore these plot holes and Eleanor’s questionable character, the novel makes for a decidedly enjoyable read
If compelled to ignore these plot holes and Eleanor’s questionable character, the novel makes for a decidedly enjoyable read as readers wait patiently for our protagonist’s past to be revealed and are encapsulated by her attempts to navigate social niceties. There are a number of heartwarming moments as Eleanor makes her first friend and we witness her initial excitement at being invited to parties and concerts. As Eleanor and Raymond combine to help a stranger in need, new and unexpected friendships serve to metaphorically chip away at the walls our protagonist has understandably constructed around herself, slowly drawing her out of her one-bed flat and launching her into alien experiences ranging from birthday parties to therapy sessions.
Eleanor’s unique personality provides a number of comic moments, for example, her oblivion to the fact that Raymond suspects himself to be the mystery man she claims to have fallen for. The macabre humour of Honeyman’s writing speaks to anyone who has ever experienced loneliness whilst the first person narrative style aids in creating an empathetic bond between reader and protagonist as we witness the oddity of the world through her eyes. Likewise, the final unexpected twist provides a satisfying sense of closure to Eleanor’s story; the reader’s due reward is a final and complete insight into Oliphant’s childhood and why she is anything but ‘completely fine’.