No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – 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.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
The only way to survive is to open your heart.
Summary: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut 2017 novel by Scottish author Gail Honeyman. Set in contemporary Glasgow, the story follows quirky twenty-nine-year-old Eleanor Oliphant, a highly educated but lonely, isolated, and socially awkward young woman with a history of trauma. Eleanor spends her days working as a clerk at a graphic design firm and her weekends alone drinking vodka, eating frozen pizza, and obsessing over pop-stars. When Eleanor meets Raymond, a disheveled IT worker from her office, she forms an unexpected bond with him when they happen to save Sammy Thom, an elderly man who has collapsed in the street. As the three spend time growing closer, their isolation fades, and thanks to Raymond’s kind heart and open mind, Eleanor is able to overcome her troubles and begin to heal. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine became a New York Times Bestseller, and was named a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick. In 2018, Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine, announced plans to adapt the novel as a feature film to be released sometime in 2019. The book also won the 2018 Costa Debut Novel Award.
Narrated in the first person by twenty-nine-year-old protagonist Eleanor Oliphant, the story begins in modern-day Glasgow, Scotland. Eleanor lives alone and works as a financial assistant for a graphic design firm in the city. She is a highly educated young woman who holds a degree in Classics. As such, her high standards of literacy encourage her to complete the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle every day during her lunch hour. Eleanor is also extremely lonely, isolated, and socially awkward. She lives a life of solitude, ignores the way she appears, and hasn’t had a haircut since she was thirteen years old. Eleanor also has mysterious scars across her face. Outside of work, Eleanor has no social prospects and spends her weekends alone drinking two bottles of vodka and eating frozen pizza. However, Eleanor constantly insists that she is “absolutely fine,” and that nothing is wrong with her whatsoever. The times she does get into socially awkward situations, Eleanor often blames the other person’s “underdeveloped social skills,” but not her own. At work, Eleanor is regarded as a laughing stock, often referred to as Harry Potter or Wacko Jacko.
As the novel progresses, hints are given alluding to Eleanor’s past trauma. The scars on Eleanor’s face were caused by a house-fire she was burned in as a child. Eleanor knows nothing about her father, as she spent her childhood in and out of various foster homes. As a student, Eleanor spent two years living with an abusive boyfriend who routinely beat her. As a result, Eleanor is visited biannually by a social worker assigned to monitor her progress. Eleanor’s mother, whom she speaks with on the telephone for fifteen minutes every Wednesday night, is interned at an unspecified institution.
On a rare night out after winning raffle tickets, Eleanor attends a rock concert. During the concert, Eleanor develops a crush on the lead singer, Johnny Lomond, despite never having spoken to him. Convinced he is the love of her life and marriage material, Eleanor begins following Johnny’s Twitter account. She learns where he lives and begins visiting his building. Eleanor is so excited at the prospect of romancing Johnny, she undergoes a complete makeover. Eleanor’s grooming regimen includes a bikini wax, haircut, manicure, and a trip to Bobby Brown makeup store for a tutorial. She even buys a whole new wardrobe in anticipation of meeting Johnny. After work one day, Eleanor meets a disheveled and unhygienic IT worker named Raymond Gibbons in her office building. As they leave work, Eleanor and Raymond witness Sammy Thom, an elderly man, fall off the sidewalk and collapse in the street. Raymond insists on calling an ambulance, which helps saves Sammy’s life. Following the incident, Eleanor, Raymond, and Sammy continue to interact through a number of encounters. Eleanor meets Sammy’s appreciative family, and in the process, forges a closer relationship with Raymond.
At long last, Eleanor finally attends Johnny’s music concert. Sure to make a grand first impression, Eleanor believes this is her time to meet Johnny, changing her life for the better. However, the night proves to be a calamity. First, Eleanor finds that she has blended into the crowd too much for Johnny to notice her. Second, during the concert, Johnny moons the audience, exposing his nude buttocks for everyone to see. Revolted, Eleanor no longer deems Johnny to be marriage material. Lastly, the dry ice machine at the concert triggers disturbing memories in Eleanor’s mind, forcing her to relive the trauma in her past, including the near-fatal house-fire that scarred her face. As a result, Eleanor becomes so upset that she spirals into a deep depression. She holes up in her apartment during a three-day vodka binge and begins gathering suicide supplies. Eleanor gathers a bunch of painkillers, a breadknife, and a container of drain cleanser.
Due to her absence from work, Eleanor’s boss sends Raymond to her apartment to check on her. Raymond rescues Eleanor from her suicidal despair. He tidies her up, helps her begin to recover, and routinely monitors her for the next few days. Raymond urges Eleanor to visit her doctor, which she agrees to, and her doctor refers her to a mental health counselor. After a while, Eleanor returns to work, where she is greeted kindly. Slowly, with the help of Raymond and her new counselor, Eleanor begins to retrieve repressed memories buried deep in her subconscious. At the end of the novel, Eleanor recalls that when she was ten years old, her mother deliberately started the house fire that left her face so badly scarred. Eleanor’s mother started the fire in an attempt to kill Eleanor and her four-year-old sister, Marianne. Eleanor remembers that both Marianne and her mother died in the fire; the weekly phone conversations with her mother are merely imaginary.
First Chapter or Excerpt
Janey the secretary had got engaged to her latest Neanderthal, and there was a presentation for her that afternoon. I’d contributed seventy-eight pence to the collection. I only had coppers in my purse or else a five-pound note, and I certainly wasn’t going to put such an extravagant sum into the communal envelope to buy something unnecessary for someone I barely knew.
I must have contributed hundreds of pounds over the years to all the leaving present, baby gifts and special birthdays, and what had I ever received in return? My own birthdays pass unremarked. Whoever had chosen the engagement gift had selected wine glasses and a matching carafe. Such accoutrements are unnecessary when you drink vodka–I simply use my favourite mug. I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man on one side. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says Top Gear .
I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills. Janey was planning a short engagement, she’d simpered, and so, of course, the inevitable collection for the wedding present would soon follow. Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most.
Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery–I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them. I’ve never actually been to a wedding ceremony.
I was invited to Loretta’s evening reception a couple of years ago, along with everyone else from the office. It was in a horrible hotel near the airport, and we organized a minibus to get there; I had to contribute to the cost of that, in addition to my bus fare into town and back. Guests were obliged to buy their own drinks all evening, which shocked me. Entertaining is not my area of expertise, I’ll admit that, but surely, if you are a host, you are responsible for ensuring that your guests are provided with a libation? That’s a basic principle of hospitality, in all societies and cultures, and has been since recorded time.
In the event, I drank tap water–I rarely imbibe alcohol in public. I only really enjoy it when I’m alone, at home. They did at least serve tea and coffee later in the evening, free of charge; this was accompanied by poor-quality savory pastries and, bizarrely, slices of Christmas cake. For hours and hours, there was a disco, and terrible people danced in a terrible way to terrible music. I sat on my own and no one asked me to dance and I was absolutely fine with that. The other guests did seem to be enjoying themselves, or at least I assume that to have been the case. They were shuffling on the dance floor, red-faced and drunk.
Their shoes looked uncomfortable, and they were shouting the words of the songs into each other’s faces. I’ll never go to such an event again. It simply wasn’t worth it, just for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. The evening wasn’t completely wasted, however, because I managed to slip almost a dozen sausage rolls into my shopper, wrapped in serviettes, for later.
Excerpted from Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
From School Library Journal
Office worker Eleanor adheres to a strict routine that has insulated her from the memories of her traumatic childhood but has not shielded her from loneliness. But after she meets Raymond, she attempts to rediscover her memories and in the process learns how relationships (including those with friends, lovers, and colleagues) operate and that other people can be a source of joy rather than destruction. Readers may find Eleanor odd at first but will feel compassion and root for her as she grapples with severe depression and her painful childhood. Though the novel deals with dark themes, quirky Eleanor’s firm bond with Raymond and their adventures lighten the tone. Teens will be spellbound as Eleanor unravels the mystery of her past and develops a sense of self. VERDICT For those seeking a dramatic page-turner combined with a whimsical love story.—April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL
“A charmer. . . satisfyingly quirky.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“This wacky, charming novel. . . draws you in with humor, then turns out to contain both a suspenseful subplot and a sweet romance. . . Hilarious and moving.” —People
“Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky loner and a model of efficiency with her routine of frozen pizza, vodka and weekly phone calls with Mummy. [She’s] a woman beginning to heal from unimaginable tragedy, with a voice that is deadpan, heartbreaking and humorous all at once.” –NPR.org
“Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. . . Eleanor Oliphant may be completely fine, but this book is completely wonderful.” –PureWow
“Warm and funny. . . You’ll want to read it.”—TheSkimm
“Eleanor Oliphant [is] the kind of book you’ll want to devour in a single sitting.” –-Vox
“Warm and uplifting.” –POPSUGAR
“Sweet and satisfying, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will speak to introverts who have ever felt a little weird about their place in the world.” –Bustle
“Eleanor Oliphant is a truly original literary creation: funny, touching, and unpredictable. Her journey out of dark shadows is expertly woven and absolutely gripping.” –Jojo Moyes, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You
“[Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine] made me laugh, it made me cry, and the entire time I beamed with joy at the beauty of this story.” –Krysten Ritter, actress, producer, and author of Bonfire
“Move over, Ove (in Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove)—there’s a new curmudgeon to love. . . Walking in Eleanor’s practical black Velcro shoes is delightfully amusing. But readers will also be drawn in by her tragic backstory, which slowly reveals how she came to be so entirely Eleanor. Witty, charming, and heartwarming, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a remarkable debut about a singular woman. Readers will cheer.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Eleanor Oliphant is endearing, [a] whip-smart read. . . a fascinating story about loneliness, hope, tragedy and humanity. Honeyman’s delivery is wickedly good, and Eleanor won’t leave you anytime soon.” –Associated Press
“Honeyman’s endearing debut is part comic novel, part emotional thriller, and part love story. . . hilarious, deadpan, and irresistible.” —Kirkus Reviews
“[A] captivating debut. . . This is a must-read for those who love characters with quirks.” –BookPage
“If you thought Fredrik Backman’s Ove was a charming curmudgeon, you’ll instantly fall for Eleanor.” –Hello Giggles
“The book is wonderfully, quirkily funny. You both ache for Eleanor. . . and laugh with her.” –Seattle Times
“A touching, funny novel.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Debut author Honeyman expertly captures a woman whose inner pain is excruciating and whose face and heart are scarred, but who still holds the capacity to love and be loved. Eleanor’s story will move readers.” —Publishers Weekly
“Deft, compassionate and deeply moving–Honeyman’s debut will have you rooting for Eleanor with every turning page. I loved this story.” –Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of Love and Ruin
A Conversation with Gail Honeyman
Where did the idea for Eleanor Oliphant come from?
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine started with two related ideas. The first was loneliness, an issue that’s now thankfully starting to receive more attention as we begin to understand more about its often devastating consequences. I remembered reading an article in which a young woman, living in a big city, said that unless she went out of her way to make arrangements in advance, she’d often find herself not speaking to another human being from the time she left work on Friday night until her return to the office on Monday morning, and not by choice.
I started to wonder how such a situation could come about. When loneliness is discussed, it’s often in the context of the elderly, but I began to think about how it might manifest in younger people, and whether the issues might be slightly different for them. Was it harder to talk about, or even to identify, because their loneliness didn’t result from, say, the death of a spouse after decades of marriage, or from becoming housebound due to age-related illness? Did social media have an impact and, if so, was it positive or negative? Was it worse or better to find yourself lonely in a big city rather than in a small town or a village? In the end, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how a young woman with no family nearby could find herself in the situation described in the article; moving to a new city, she might rent a one-bedroom apartment, take a job at a small firm where she had nothing in common with her colleagues . . . narratively, the possibilities began to intrigue me.
The other strand that helped inform the book was the idea of social awkwardness. Only a few fortunate people are blessed with the ability to make effortless, charming small talk with strangers, and the rest of us just try to muddle along as best we can. However, most people have, at some point, found themselves struggling to maintain a more than usually stilted exchange with someone whose conversation and demeanour just seem a bit . . . awkward. It struck me that I’d never given much thought as to whether there might be a reason for this, something that helped to explain that person’s awkwardness. Might there perhaps be something in their background or childhood experiences, some life event that had helped to shape them in this particular way?
I realized that I wanted to tell a story about someone like this, or, rather, someone who’d ended up like this, living a small life. A lonely person, a slightly awkward person, and someone in whom loneliness and social awkwardness had become entwined and self-perpetuating. I wanted to tell the story of how this had happened to her, and of what happened to her next, and this became the story of Eleanor Oliphant.
Many of Eleanor’s coworkers know nothing about her. Some of this can be contributed to her reluctance to interact with others, but it largely has to do with her unusual appearance and odd personality. Why do you think we are so hesitant to accept the “other”?
That’s a good question, and a very difficult one. In Eleanor’s specific case, I think that her colleagues, faced with what appears to be extreme and perhaps rather misplaced self-confidence, coupled with an inability to fit in socially and a complete lack of interest in attempting to do so, find her to be quite challenging, and possibly even a slightly threatening character. Of course, the reader can see the difference between who Eleanor really is and how she might appear to others, but unfortunately most of the people she encounters don’t have access to the full picture—her thoughts and feelings and experiences—which could help them understand why she seems to behave in particular, and sometimes quite irritating, ways.
In the beginning of the story, Eleanor falls in love with a local musician, Johnnie. She believes he is her soulmate, even though they haven’t actually met. Her relationship with him is completely one-sided, and exists solely online. Romantic idealism isn’t a new concept, but do you think that social media gives it a new platform?
When I was writing about Eleanor and Johnnie, I began thinking about what he might reveal about himself online, either knowingly or, perhaps more interestingly, unknowingly—the tiny background details in photographs, for example. From following Johnnie’s various and frequent social media posts, Eleanor very quickly forms a completely false sense of intimacy with him— a person she’s never met—because she’s able to see where he goes and who he spends time with, and in a matter of days, she comes to know a tremendous amount about his life. This provides a lot of narrative possibilities in a compressed time period, which is very useful for a writer.
Eleanor is so literal but so funny. Though there’s plenty of darkness in her story, she never fails to make us laugh. How did you come up with Eleanor’s inimitable voice?
I’m absolutely delighted to hear that she’s making people laugh! Darker aspects of the story aside, the character of Eleanor Oliphant was so much fun to write, partly because she has no filters and very little self-awareness, and so she often ends up saying things out loud that most of us wouldn’t ever dream of saying. Eleanor is also largely unaware of social conventions, or, when she is aware of them, pays them no heed. Because of all these factors, she looks at other people and at the world—even the most mundane, routine situations and encounters— from a very particular point of view. She’s not much influenced by preconceived ideas or social pressures to conform, and trying to create a character who spoke with that particular voice and had that particular view of the world was such an enjoyable challenge.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is your first novel, yet it was already on the shortlist for the Lucy Cavendish Prize in the UK. How long did it take you to write this novel, and how did you feel when you found out it would be published?
It took me around two years to write it—I had a full-time job, so I was writing before or after work, or on weekends when I could. I was completely thrilled when I found out it was going to be published—even now, I’m still pinching myself.
What is it about the other characters—Raymond, Sam—that finally get Eleanor to open up her life to others?
I think it’s partly a question of timing—when we first meet Eleanor, she has reached a point where something has to give, and these characters come along at exactly the right time in her life. I think it’s also that they’re very nonjudgmental; they take Eleanor as they find her, with all her quirks and idiosyncrasies. They’re happy to let her be herself, and, at the same time, are gently trying to help her be the best, happiest version of herself, without ever thinking or implying that what she is at the moment is anything other than completely fine. That’s an important aspect of helping to build her trust, I think. The other thing, perhaps the most important thing, is that they are kind, and their kindness works its own particular magic.
If there’s one piece of advice you would give to Eleanor, what would it be?
I suppose if I had to suggest anything to Eleanor, it would be that she should keep trying to open up. It’s great that she’s self-sufficient and confident in her abilities, but other people have so much to offer, and she’s been missing out on this. The other thing is that while it’s wonderful to receive help when you need it, it’s also a lovely feeling to be able to give it, knowing that you’ve been useful or made a difference in someone’s life, however small. If Eleanor opened up more and, in so doing, let people in, she’d also be giving them the gift of helping her— it’s a positive, virtuous circle.
What are you working on now?
I don’t want to say too much about it at this early stage, but it’s a novel that moves between the 1940s and the present day, with a male protagonist and a female protagonist who are related to each other, and it’s set in both London and Scotland. I’ve loved spending time with Eleanor in her world, but I’m really enjoying writing something very different and exploring different voices right now.
- Silas Marner by George Eliot
- The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
About the Author
Gail Honeyman wrote her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, while working a full-time job, and it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress.
She has also been awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2014, was longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines, and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.
Originally published: 2017
Page count: 383
Genres: Romance novel, Psychological Fiction