Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017, 383 pp) – (4,1/5) ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
IFA Tuesday Book Club Book Review by Virginia Manhard Lubin
The IFA Tuesday Book Club found Eleanor Oliphant a well-constructed and engaging debut novel. From the outset, we understand that there is something troubling about Eleanor’s past, which she manages by adopting a quirky regimented lifestyle, always keeping others at a distance including her long-term co-workers in the accounting department of a Scottish design store, until unexpected events intervene. Walking to the bus stop with a colleague, Eleanor becomes an unwitting actor in the rescue of a passerby who suffers a heart attack and, as the barriers fall and her life becomes increasingly intertwined with her colleague and the heart attack patient, she is confronted with long-repressed memories of her traumatic past and the fears and pain that they have provoked in her life. Eleanor Oliphant is not, in fact, perfectly fine, but she becomes endearingly human, as we follow her through her “good days“, “bad days” and “better days” – the three parts of the novel.
EO lends itself to a lively book club discussion: the book invites us to examine the roots of loneliness in today’s society and the complexity of surmounting it: simple willpower is not enough, institutional solutions are often inadequate, but sometimes chance and a bit of well-timed human kindness can move mountains. We discussed the impact of violence and dysfunction in families, its management by social services and psychologists, mother-daughter relationships, the often-misguided search for a significant other, and the possibility that platonic love may be the only fulfillment of damaged souls like Eleanor, …. or not ! The last pages leave us questioning!