Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.jpg
AuthorGail Honeyman
Audio read byCathleen McCarron
PublisherHarperCollins
Publication date
2017
Pages383
ISBN978-0-00-817214-5

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the 2017 debut novel of Gail Honeyman,[1] and the winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award.

The novel focuses on 29-year-old Eleanor Oliphant, a social misfit with a traumatic past who becomes enamoured of a singer, whom she believes she is destined to be with. It deals with themes of isolation and loneliness, and depicts Eleanor's transformation journey towards a fuller understanding of self and life.

Plot[edit]

Eleanor Oliphant, the novel's protagonist and narrator, lives in Glasgow and works as a finance clerk for a graphic design company. She is 29 at the novel's outset. She is academically intelligent, with a degree in Classics and high standards of literacy. Every day on her lunch break she completes the Daily Telegraph crossword.

She is socially awkward and leads a solitary lifestyle. She has no friends or social contacts, and every weekend consumes two bottles of vodka. She takes no interest in her appearance, not having a haircut since she was 13.

Not considering that she has a problem, Eleanor repeatedly describes herself as "absolutely fine", and even when obvious moments of awkwardness arise in her interactions with others, she tends to blame the other person's "underdeveloped social skills". Her work colleagues regard her as a bit of a joke, and refer to her as "Wacko Jacko" or "Harry Potter"; she regards them as "shirkers and idiots".

Clues gradually emerge to a troubled past. Eleanor has a badly scarred face; knows nothing about her father; spent much of her childhood in foster care and children's homes; and, as a student, spent two years living with an abusive boyfriend who regularly beat her. Twice yearly she receives a routine visit from a social worker to monitor her progress. Her mother now appears to be confined to an unidentified institution: she phones Eleanor for a 15-minute conversation on Wednesday evenings. It is clear that Eleanor's mother is both vindictive and manipulative.

Several developments advance the narrative. Eleanor develops a crush on Johnnie Lomond, lead singer in a local band, having won tickets to a concert in a raffle. She becomes convinced that he is the "love of [her] life" and "husband material". She starts to follow his Twitter feed, discovers where he lives, and visits his building. In anticipation of meeting him, she begins an unprecedented regime of personal grooming: she has a bikini wax, and later a manicure and haircut, buys new clothes, and visits a Bobbi Brown beauty store for makeup advice.

On leaving work one day with a new colleague, Raymond Gibbons, they witness an elderly man, Sammy Thom, collapse in the street. At Raymond's insistence, they call an ambulance, and help save his life. They are subsequently drawn into a series of encounters with Sammy and his grateful family, and in the process an embryonic friendship grows between Eleanor and Raymond.

Eleanor attends another long-anticipated concert by Johnnie Lomond, certain that this is the moment at which they will meet, and the pieces of her life will start to fall into place. Instead, she finds that she is hidden in the crowd, and that Johnnie is unaware of her presence. When, to fill a gap in the performance, he moons the audience, she realises that he is not the refined soul-mate she had imagined. A dry ice stage effect stirs disturbing recollections of a traumatic fire in her past. She returns to her flat in despair, retreating into an intense three-day drinking binge and assembling materials for a suicide attempt – a hoard of painkillers; a bread knife; and a bottle of drain cleaner.

Eleanor is saved by Raymond, sent by their boss to investigate her absence from work. He cleans her up, puts her on the road to recovery, and continues to visit regularly over the following days. He even brings her an abandoned cat for company, which Eleanor appreciates. At his urging, she visits her GP, who refers her to a mental health counsellor. She eventually returns to work, where she is warmly greeted. Gradually, with the help of both the counsellor and Raymond, her full childhood story emerges, including details that she had suppressed. When she was 10, her mother had started a house fire with the intention of killing both Eleanor and her four-year-old sister, Marianne. Although Eleanor survived, her mother and Marianne died. The weekly phone conversations with her mother have been entirely in Eleanor's imagination.

Themes[edit]

The novel deals with theme of loneliness, prejudices, trauma recovery, small acts of kindness, and friendships.[2][3] The novel is considered as written through the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator, though notably not due to malice - as commonly observed with this style in literature, but rather as a result of the character's unawareness.[2]

In the story, humour is used to lighten up and contrast with the darker theme.[3] The novel has been regarded as one of the most notable examples of "up lit", referring to uplifting literature which features stories of kindness, compassion, and hope.[4][5][6] It has also been credited for raising the popularity of uplifting literature among public, as since its publication a marked rise has been observed in the number of up lit novels making best-seller lists.[7]

Reception[edit]

The novel has been praised by critics. Jenny Colgan, reviewing it for The Guardian, described it as "a narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness" with a "wonderful, joyful" ultimate message.[1] Allan Massie of The Scotsman noted the book's unusual emphasis on "the importance of kindness", and found it to be reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel in its depiction of the "moral education of her heroine" and "an uncommonly intelligent and sympathetic novel" [8] Sarah Gilmartin of The Irish Times called the title character "one of the most unusual and thought-provoking heroines of recent contemporary fiction".[3]

The novel received the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award.[9][10] In the British Book Awards for 2018, it won the "Début Book of the Year" and "Overall Winner" awards (the latter chosen by public vote), and also the "Marketing Strategy of the Year" award.[11]

The Audio Version[edit]

The audio version of the book, narrated by Cathleen McCarron and published by Penguin Audio, won the 2018 US Audie Award for Fiction[12] and AudioFile Magazine's AudioFile Earphones Award in 2017. [13]

From Publisher's Weekly,

"Narrator McCarron gives an award-worthy performance: her Eleanor is by turns comical in her obliviousness to basic things and utterly heartbreaking in discussing her past. Her narration is nuanced, conveying both Eleanor’s surface facade of “everything’s fine” and all the subtle layers of repressed pain and trauma underneath. It’s a performance that will stay in listeners’ minds long after the story is over."[14]

Film rights[edit]

In May 2017 the film rights were optioned by Reese Witherspoon's company Hello Sunshine.[15] In December 2018 it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would also be involved in the production.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Colgan, Jenny (4 May 2017). "Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman review – 'only the lonely'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  2. ^ a b Armitstead, Claire (12 January 2018). "Gail Honeyman: 'I didn't want Eleanor Oliphant to be portrayed as a victim'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 May 2020 – via www.theguardian.com.
  3. ^ a b c Gilmartin, Sarah (22 July 2017). "Eleanor Oliphant is a most unusual and thought-provoking heroine". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  4. ^ Beckerman, Hannah (16 March 2018). "Gone Girl's gone, hello Eleanor Oliphant: why we're all reading 'up lit'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 May 2020 – via www.theguardian.com.
  5. ^ Keoghan, Sarah (25 March 2019). "The Dymocks Top 101: What are we reading in 2019?". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  6. ^ Angelini, Francesca. "Books: the rise of 'up-lit'. Why Eleanor Oliphant is so right for now". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 14 May 2020 – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
  7. ^ "Books in brief: a modern classic of Mexican literature, French cliches and uplifting lit". The Irish Times. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  8. ^ Massie, Allan (6 June 2017). "Book review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Helen Dunmore wins posthumous Costa poetry prize". BBC News Online. 2 January 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  10. ^ Amos, Ilona (3 January 2018). "Scots author wins prize for 'completely fantastic' first book". The Scotsman. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  11. ^ "2018 Winners". The British Book Awards. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  12. ^ "2018 Audie Awards". Audio Publishers Association. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  13. ^ "ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman Read by Cathleen McCarron | Audiobook Review". AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine". www.publishersweekly.com. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  15. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (11 May 2017). "Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine sets two novels for screen". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  16. ^ McNary, Dave (19 December 2018). "Film News Roundup: Reese Witherspoon to Team With MGM on 'Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine'". Variety. Retrieved 16 February 2019.