Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

Gunshots sound from the river. Isn’t it a bit early? It’s not even 7 am yet. I’m sitting here and trying to understand how Gail Honeyman sucked me into the story of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

I started it the other night, went to bed, then woke at 3 am and finished it straight through. I looked at the clock one time and thought, I need to get out of bed but I’m just about done! I finished at 7 am. I don’t like crawling out of bed at 7 am. It throws off my day.

Accolades

A debut novel for its Glaswegian author, the book has garnered many accomplishments:

  • as a Work-in-Progress, it shortlisted in the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize

  • the winner of the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014

  • became the focus of an 8-way auction at Frankfurt Book Fair

  • the winner of the 2017 Costa Debut Novel Award

  • the Debut Book of the Year, Overall Winner, and Marketing Strategy of the Year in the 2018 British Book Awards

  • the 2018 U.S. Audie Award for Fiction for its audio version

  • a #1 New York Times Bestseller

  • and a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, whose company bought the film rights

a stranger enters her world

In several websites I scoured, it’s listed as Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Contemporary Romance. One source wrote, Move over Ove, (in Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove) there’s a new curmudgeon to love.

Story type? It’s a “stranger enters her world” book and a “journey to discover herself” book.

I gravitate toward these genres and types.

In terms of movie or television mash-ups, I’d say it combines the nerdy quirkiness of The Big Bang Theory and the makeover, inward as well as outward, of Pretty Woman.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
— Penguin Random House

What compelled me to read?

I connected emotionally with Eleanor. I rooted and cheered for her to engage more fully in life, to triumph over the baggage of her past.

I liked the bits of humor that came through, whether from a ridiculous situation she found herself in or from something she said in response to the events around her and Raymond’s comeback.

In the beginning, her world is constricted—to work and colleagues whose socialization habits mystify her and the kindly store owner where she buys her food and weekend allotment of vodka. As we read the book, her world keeps expanding. She blossoms.

story structure itself

I liked the pacing of the story. (there are no spoilers in this list of structural moments)

  • The hook on the first page presents us with a contrast. She’s self-sufficient yet nine years ago, she showed up for her job interview with “a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.”

  • By the end of Chapter 1, we have a hook to take us through her gradual metamorphosis. She has found the love of her life and “Mummy was going to be thrilled.”

  • At the 12% mark (Inciting Incident), she has met the stranger, new IT colleague Raymond and they’re waiting to cross the street when they notice an old man carrying carrier bags opposite them, who falls backward and lays still.

  • At the 25% mark, (Doorway 1), she and Raymond meet with Sammy in the hospital, where she’s wondering, strangely enough, if she should help out by bringing him food to provide him better nutrients. “That seemed to be the sort of thing a woman of my age and social circumstances might do. Exciting!”

  • I’m not sure that the 50% mark (which ought to be the mirror moment) is in the right point, if we’re rigid about it. Although it does have a moment where it shows her craving for companionship, “I felt like asking Raymond whether we should keep walking, walk over the rolling greens, keep walking till the birds fell silent in their bowers and we could see only by starlight.”

  • Around the 75% mark (Doorway 2) , Eleanor enters a new place that connect her to times from her childhood.

  • The climax is perfect as she faces her antagonist.

  • The resolution includes this beautiful phrase: “The moment hung in time like a drop of honey from a spoon, heavy, golden. “

Although some of the other critiques found the book depressing (and it does deal with a heavy issue that is depressingly real), I found it uplifting and a joy to read.

What are your thoughts? Is this a book that appealed to you?

By the way, the gunshots…it wasn’t too early. I discovered that hunting waterfowl is allowed along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin from a half hour before sunrise to sunset!