Eleanor Oliphant may be completely fine – but there’s something wrong with this picture


Review: Vivien Horler

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

Eleanor Oliphant may think she’s fine, but she isn’t, not by a long chalk.

She works for a graphic design company in Glasgow, but is not one of the creatives: she works in accounts. She comes to work at 8.30am, takes an hour for lunch, and leaves at 5.30pm.

She listens to a radio serial while she eats her supper – always pasta with pesto and salad – and then either reads, does the crossword, or occasionally watches television. She goes to bed at 10pm. Every Wednesday she speaks to Mummy on the phone.

Weekends are a little different. On Fridays she buys a margherita pizza from Tescos, a bottle of Chianti and two bottles of vodka. She drinks all the liquor, spreading it over the entire weekend, so that she spends the time at home neither drunk nor sober.

No one rings, no one visits. On Mondays she goes back to work.

Eleanor, who is 30, has never quite grasped the way other people see life. They seem to be loud and shallow and silly. They operate according to social codes that no one has ever taught her.

She is not without resources – she has a degree in Classics and she’s smart. But there are hints of a difficult upbringing, with plenty of foster homes, and references to an ugly facial scar.

One night she goes to a pub gig – a freeby ticket from the office – and falls for a musician. He’s good-looking, elegant and has a beautiful voice. Eleanor knows Mummy will approve. They haven’t actually met – but Eleanor has every faith they will.

Meanwhile her company has a taken on a new IT technician, Raymond, large, shambling and not very clean. Not the sort Mummy will like at all. She can’t believe Raymond and the rock musician are members of the same species.

Then one day, when she and Raymond happen to be leaving the office at the same time, an old man collapses on the pavement near them. Eleanor assumes he is drunk and intends to ignore him, but Raymond insists they go to his aid.

This small event is the start of a cascade of changes in Eleanor’s life, so that she goes from surviving a grey life as best she can, to living in colour.

Eleanor Oliphant is a heartwarming debut novel of such quality that author Gail Honeyman won a prize for it as a work in progress. It has been sold to 30 countries worldwide, and was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017. It is being made into a movie directed by Reese Witherspoon.



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