Over the weekend I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, the debut novel by Gail Honeyman. I adored Eleanor and her voice will stay with me for a long time. This is a moving story told with humour and care. It is also a timely reminder, if one were needed, that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference.
When I was a member of a book club whenever anyone recommended an ‘’award winner’’ as our next read I would stifle a groan. There is absolutely no logical reason for this bias of mine. As a school librarian I regularly used award shortlists to help me select library stock and often read and enjoyed them too. Yet my inner child clearly views adult award winning novels as something I ‘’should’’ read rather than something I want to read for pleasure. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine won the 2017 Costa Award for a Debut Novel. It is a worthy winner. It is also, I think, a hugely enjoyable book.
I was instantly hooked from the opening pages and found Eleanor an intriguing and very unusual character. She feels so very real that it is almost a little unnerving. Eleanor leads a solitary life, working in an office all week and retreating to her flat at weekends when, following a pizza from Tesco, she will speak to no-one until she returns to work on Monday morning. A creature of strict habit, including drinking two bottles of vodka over the weekend, she is efficient and diligent but does not interact with her colleagues at all. Gradually the author reveals small details about Eleanor’s past and as a reader I grew to be interested in her back story and to care increasingly for Eleanor’s well-being. The subject of loneliness, which is more and more often being highlighted as a modern day problem, is tackled with great care and perception.
As the story progresses Eleanor’s timetabled and orderly life starts to unravel and yet at the same time her connections with others start to increase and slowly, so slowly, Eleanor learns to trust and to hope that change may be possible.
I found this a moving, thoughtful and ultimately a hopeful read. Eleanor is at times frankly hilarious. She is an intelligent woman and her observations of social behaviour are spot on. One of the most lovely aspects of the book is the kindness shown by others and watching its effect on Eleanor. It really made me think that when we are out and about in our daily routines we have no idea what others are having to cope with and endure. I will try to remember that next time I get exasperated by trivial things.
School librarians and teachers often stress how important reading and books are in developing empathy in children. Eleanor Oliphant does a pretty good job at doing the same for adults.
This book can be purchased from all good bookshops, borrowed from your local library or bought online
The Reading Agency has a scheme called Reading Well that helps people to understand and manage their health and well-being using helpful reading. This includes providing titles to help those suffering from common mental health problems.