Likely Stories: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Nov 15, 2018

Sometimes sad, sometimes funny story of a woman who tries to conquer all her demons.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

I really enjoy novels with a psychological undertones.  As the character unwinds mental ordeals, it is absorbing reading to witness the trauma such a character undergoes to conquer demons.  The opening lines of Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, do not portend an easy recovery, but perhaps worse, a tragic ending. 

However, this is a story of a woman fighting all those demons to reassemble her life after a tragic act perpetrated by her mother.  The novel opens, “When people ask me what I do—taxi drivers, hairdressers—I tell them I work in an office.  In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people hear the phrase work in an office and automatically fill in the blanks themselves—lady doing photocopying, man tapping at a keyboard”  (3).   

Honeyman continues, “I’m thirty years old now and I’ve been working here since I was twenty-one.  Bob, the owner, took me on not long after the office opened.  I suppose he felt sorry for me.  I had a degree in Classics and no work experience to speak of, and I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of teeth missing and a broken arm” (3).  This turned out to be a marvelous story of a young woman coming to terms with her life following a tragic fire.

Eleanor spends much time and effort in examining her life.  Honeyman again, “I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone.  I’m a sole survivor—I’m Eleanor Oliphant.  I don’t need anyone else—there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle.  I am a self-contained entity.  That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate.  But last night, I’d found the love of my life” (7-8).  I felt as if I was listening in on a patient therapist discussion.

Eleanor turns out to be an erudite individualist, and her sprays of literature made me want to cheer her on.  Gail writes, “I was crying.  Sobbing!  I hadn’t cried so extravagantly for years.  I tried to remember the last time; it was after Declan and I split up.  Even then, those weren’t emotional tears—I was crying with pain because he’d broken my arm and two ribs when I’d finally asked him to move out.  This simply wasn’t [done], sobbing in the kitchen of a colleague’s mother.  Whatever would Mummy say?  I pulled myself together.  //  ‘Please don’t apologize, Mrs. Gibbons,’ I said.  My voice croaking and then splitting like a teenage boy’s as I tried to calm my breath, wiping my eyes on the tea towel.  She was literally wringing her hands and looked on the verge of tears herself.  Raymond had his arm around her shoulder” (94-95).  Eleanor is a strong woman, and she seems to have ready in reserve the strength for what she needs to do to sweep away those demons.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a story that will have you turning pages to cheer her on.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!