Gail Honeyman has created a new type of heroine. This heroine is not witty or quirky in a “cute” or “adorable” way, as many female protagonists are written as today. Instead, Honeyman breaks free from using a cliché stock character to befit the dark-comedic story that she creates. Eleanor Oliphant is the eponym for Honeyman’s debut 2017 novel, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and both women find their spotlight.
The recipient of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine follows Eleanor through her reclusive life after she becomes entranced with a stranger. Eleanor is shown in the beginning of the novel as a mousy office worker, but a dark past lay behind her sensible work shoes and starched collar. Honeyman introduces readers to Eleanor in bits and pieces, and likewise, as the novel progresses, so does our knowledge of Eleanor’s character and specifically, the events that led to her development. Honeyman kept me in the shadows until the very end and I have never met a character quite as complicated as Eleanor.
Honeyman tackles topics that are grim to say the least, what with Eleanor’s blatant love for vodka, loneliness, and a verbally abusive relationship with her mother. Eleanor’s demons exist both physically and emotionally, but Eleanor’s pejorative commentary on her life’s ills gives light to the inner workings of her mind. Introduced from the opening of the novel, burn marks disfigure Eleanor’s face but the causation is left up to the reader’s interpretation for most of the novel. The physical aspects of Eleanor’s potential abusive past act as a roadblock to her sought after happiness, but the emotional scars Eleanor harbors take more time to heal. I am thankful Honeyman invited readers along to witness Eleanor’s process. Honeyman’s tempo of writing Eleanor’s tempestuous battle with herself unfolds so that the last unveiled elements reverberate with readers. Turning between the last chapters of the book, labeled “Better Days,” there was no sentence where I had a dry eye.
Eleanor’s voice, however, made it so that even when reading about the lowest points of her life, she eased a small smile out of me. The evoked smile was due to her complete lack of social skills. Eleanor’s interactive mistakes were in such a stark juxtaposition to her dark depressive states; to quote NPR it was “humorous and heartbreaking.”
I simply devoured Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine— in two days to be exact— due to its harrowing subject matter and newfound voice from Honeyman and her heroine. Honeyman developed Eleanor’s character like that of a seamstress, gently piecing together scraps of cloth to form a tapestry of someone hurt on the road to healing.