Book Reviews From the Vault: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is part of a series of curmudgeons that have invaded popular books within the last 15 years. Even though its blue print is from A Man Called Ove, Eleanor Oliphant and the book that she is in stand out in more ways than one.

What do you get when you make the title character from A Man Called Ove a 30-year-old woman living and working in Glasgow? You get Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – the debut novel by Gail Honeyman. These curmudgeons have a lot in common, and readers will remember both for a very long time, but Eleanor Oliphant stands on her own as a character while she learns that life should be better than fine.

The Nicholas Sparks-penned description that I used in my A Man Called Ove review (specifically the “how healing can occur with the unlikeliest of people, in the unlikeliest of ways”) is definitely applicable to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Our young female Ove struggles with social skills, avoids social interactions with almost everybody, and says exactly what she is thinking. Outside of work, her life consists of making pasta during the week, reading books, watching TV, “phone chats” with Mummy, and consuming frozen pizza and vodka during the weekend. All that changes when she and her unhygienic IT co-worker Raymond witness an elderly man named Sammy collapse on the sidewalk. The three become friends that rescue each other from their isolated lives, and it is Raymond’s big heart that helps Eleanor to slowly repair her own damaged one.

I will not lie. When I had first read the description to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I knew that I had to read it immediately, and I am glad that I did. Honeyman flavors with the story with lots of humor, especially when Eleanor learns to laugh at herself, but I was not expecting the dark elements. Luckily, both are fairly balanced. At the same time, A Man Called Ove also has a great balance of humor and sadness.

Speaking of A Man Called Ove, I am pretty convinced that Honeyman used that novel as a blueprint for Eleanor Oliphant. Both title characters can come off as judgmental, contemplate suicide, are given cats, express stubbornness in everyday situations, and have personal demons due to past events. In addition, both find healing with people that they initially did not like. Ove originally did not like Parvenah and her family because they nearly ran over his mailbox; Eleanor initially dismissed Raymond due to his unkempt appearance.

However, they differ in a number of ways. Where the humor comes from in both stories is different. In A Man Called Ove, the humor mainly comes from the fact that his neighbors need his help every time he tries to kill himself. In Eleanor Oliphant, the humor comes from the situations, in which she tries to figure out what to do from getting the right clothes for a concert to getting her bikini area waxed. With Ove, readers will probably laugh since he is forced out of one state of misery into another state of misery. With Eleanor, readers will probably feel sorry for her, yet they are encouraged to laugh at her as well due to her ignorance. Moreover, while Ove’s personal demons were developed by his experiences with being taken advantaged by various people and the loss of his wife, Eleanor’s personal demons were developed by her abusive mother, her experience with the foster system, and having survivor’s guilt. But the main difference is how they heal. Neighbors constantly need Ove’s help, and begrudgingly, he helps. This eventually allows him to open up about the loss of his wife and let him die in peace. As for Eleanor, Raymond and Sammy invite her to parties, and later on, Raymond convinces her to go see a therapist and gives her a cat to show her that she has a purpose in life outside of vodka and “phone chats” with Mummy.

What truly works in both stories is that their healings are not snap-out mentalities. Both characters are still themselves, yet they are willing to open up to others. This is especially true with Eleanor, who by the end of the novel is more empathetic and willing to mend the past, yet she acknowledges that it is a long road to recovery. With Raymond helping her out, readers might assume that they might fall in love, but that never happens. Thank god! Eleanor constantly asserts that she is fine with nobody else in her life (even though there is a subplot involving her trying to meet her crush – a musician – to help fight off her mother). Having her and Raymond hook up would have reaffirmed the notion that romance always rescues people from self-destruction, which is not always true. With the tools that Raymond, the therapist, and Sammy’s relatives provide, Eleanor learns to save herself by opening herself up more.

Listening to the audiobook also makes Eleanor’s story all the more entertaining. Kathleen McCarron narrates the audiobook with finesse. McCarron voices Eleanor perfectly, whether she is trying to be formal, assertive, scared, or depressed with an accent that blends both English and Scottish dialects. She gives Raymond a thicker Scottish accent with a bumbling and laid-back attitude – a complete complementary opposite of Eleanor’s. McCarron voices other characters with great distinctions, but it is with Eleanor and Raymond that stood out the most.

Overall, even though Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine uses A Man Called Ove’s design, the title character of the former stands on her own because of how wonderfully developed she is. Readers will laugh, cry, and desire to put her mother in her place alongside Eleanor as she opens herself up to other people that truly care about her. I recommend this book to everybody, especially to people who loved A Man Called Ove.

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Published by emilyblakowski

I work at two public libraries in southeast Michigan, and I facilitate a book club for one of them. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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