Book: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor, who tells her own story as best she can in the novel “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” has grown used to being ridiculed and excluded. She’s OK with it; she does her own thing and doesn’t worry about her lack of understanding of pop culture, or about never being touched, or about those who whisper behind her back — and sometimes right in front of her face.

Her face often causes others to stare, in fact. One side of it still bears the scars of an incident from her childhood — a house fire in which she almost died and which, readers soon deduce, led to her horrid mother being incarcerated and Eleanor growing up in foster care.

First-time author Gail Honeyman delicately weaves clues about Eleanor’s past into the character’s own narrative of her present day. She’s gainfully employed in Glasgow, Scotland; she’s good at her office job; and, after work, she’s isolated.

Yet she doesn’t feel lonely — until, that is, she gets a taste of friendship. Suddenly she sees her gray life in contrast to the bright rainbow of relationships. And that hurts.

Eleanor is very smart, but socially inept.

She takes her first steps into everyday social interaction with a new coworker — and pal! — Raymond after the two of them happen upon an older man who needs medical help. They visit the man, Sammy, in the hospital, then accept the embrace of his family.

Later, Raymond takes her to visit his elderly mother, who also accepts her warmly. Later still, he introduces her to Glen. Eleanor realizes she’s not the only one who’s lonely or who can benefit from kindness.

She and Raymond explore Glasgow’s pubs, attend concerts and birthday parties, and meet for lunch — all typical things for friends to do together, and all new experiences for Eleanor.

She finds it all very uncomfortable, at first. But she considers everything logically, and realizes she is learning from the unfamiliar — and liking, maybe loving, what she’s learning.

It’s rather fascinating to read.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” reminds me a little of a cross between the wonderful “Rosie Project,” by Australian author Graeme Simsion, and Gail Parent’s classic 1970s book “Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York.” Yet this 2017 novel walks its own path, head up proudly.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman, Viking, 2017.


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