Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Published by Penguin Random House 2017

There are far too few novels out there that address mental illness; especially books where the protagonist is the one with mental health issues. Honeyman shows that this can clearly be done well, with gentleness, tact, and even humor.

Written in first person POV, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is about a young woman who has experienced a tragic childhood at the hands of her mother and has up to this point lived her life mostly isolated and coldly distant from those who she must interact with daily (her coworkers for instance).

With a cast of characters that are lovingly imperfect, Eleanor’s journey to mental wellness is alternatively frightening and funny and reminds us that genuine connection with others is possibly the most important cure for what ails the heart and, in some cases, the mind.

How did I hear about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?

This novel was a recommendation from book review blogger Jenna at Jenna, Stop Reading. Follow her! She is a prolific reader and amazing book reviewer.

Did the opening pages grab my attention?

Yes. Eleanor introduces herself on the very first paragraph. We get a snapshot of a woman who has a tragic past, mostly ignored by society, isolated, often ridiculed, and yet claims she is completely fine with it all. I think we know better.

What kept me reading?

Eleanor seems to have no clue how the machinations of how society works at all, absolutely zero knowledge of pop culture references, beauty or fashion, or intuition into the myriad of non-verbal communications exhibited by other human beings. Other than her often hilarious observations into this strange world that she has somehow misunderstood, I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened in Eleanor’s past to make her this way and what her mother had done.

How predictable was the outcome?

The ending may surprise you. I pride myself on being able to predict the direction a story will go and I was totally blindsided.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Of course! It does have some dark themes in it (depression, physical and mental abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, and suicide), but it also is a book about the unconditional love of friends and about hope. And, it is funny, too. I laughed. A lot. Any writer who can make me laugh with all those heavy themes gets a thumbs up from me.

Recommend for book club?

Go for it! There is a lot here to discuss and the book includes a book club guide. Don’t you love it when publishers include questions for book clubs?

Final thoughts …

It is good to be reminded that someone’s behavior or words at any given moment does not define that person. Maybe they are having a terrible day. Maybe they lost their job. Maybe someone died. Maybe they are suffering from mental illness or PTSD. Being that person to reach out and offer a smile or small conversation, or someone to hang out with during lunch occasionally, might make all of the difference.


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