Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.jpg
AuthorGail Honeyman
Publication date

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the 2017 debut novel of Gail Honeyman,[1] and the winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award. It deals with themes of isolation and loneliness.


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, and every day she completes the Daily Telegraph crossword during her lunch break. However, she is socially awkward and leads a solitary lifestyle. She has no friends or social contacts, and regularly spends every weekend consuming two bottles of vodka. She takes no interest in her appearance, and has not had her hair cut since she was 13. She does not consider that she has a problem. She repeatedly describes herself as "absolutely fine", and when moments of obvious awkwardness arise in her interactions with others (as they frequently do), 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 a year 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 every Wednesday evening, and it is apparent that she is both vindictive and manipulative.

Two developments drive forward the narrative. The first is that Eleanor attends a concert (having won tickets in a raffle), and develops a crush on Johnnie Lomond, lead singer in a local band: 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. The second development is that, 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 a 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, it is a disaster. First, she finds that she is hidden in the crowd, and that he is quite unaware of her presence. Second, at one point, to fill a gap in the performance, he bares his buttocks to the audience, and she realises that he is not the refined soul-mate she had taken him for. And finally, the dry ice stage effects stir disturbing recollections of the traumatic fire that lies in her past. In despair, she retires to her flat for an intensive three-day vodka-drinking binge, and assembles the materials for suicide – a hoard of painkillers; a bread knife; and a bottle of drain cleaner.

She is saved by Raymond, sent round 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. 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 many 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 4-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.


The novel has been praised by critics. Jenny Colgan, reviewing it for The Guardian, described it as a "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" [2] 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 was the winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award.[4][5] 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.[6] An audio version, narrated by Cathleen McCarron and published by Penguin Audio, won the 2018 US Audie Award for Fiction.[7]

Film rights[edit]

In May 2017 the film rights were optioned by Reese Witherspoon's company Hello Sunshine;[8] and in December 2018 it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would also be involved in the production.[9]


  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. ^ Massie, Allan (6 June 2017). "Book review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  3. ^ Gilmartin, Sarah (22 July 2017). "Eleanor Oliphant is a most unusual and thought-provoking heroine". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  4. ^ "Helen Dunmore wins posthumous Costa poetry prize". BBC News Online. 2 January 2018. Retrieved 18 August 2018.
  5. ^ Amos, Ilona (3 January 2018). "Scots author wins prize for 'completely fantastic' first book". The Scotsman. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  6. ^ "2018 Winners". The British Book Awards. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  7. ^ "2018 Audie Awards". Audio Publishers Association. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike, Jr (11 May 2017). "Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine sets two novels for screen". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  9. ^ 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.