OutreachNC’s 2020 Book Club: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Our first book of the year proved to be a gem. Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was an utter surprise to all of us over at the ONC cottage. We didn’t know what to expect other than hearing (from countless sources) that the book is witty, sarcastic and heartfelt. We dug in, and once we did, bathtubs were refilled multiple times as we read, and read some more. 

Eleanor Oliphant is a heroine we can all relate to because she is flawed, tragically so, and because she is scared of the world in a way we can understand even if we haven’t necessarily shared the same experiences. Lest we give away more of the story before we actually offer up our thoughts, here are 10 Things About Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine:

  1. The goal of any novel is to pull the reader in on the first page, hopefully with the first sentence. Honeyman’s first sentence isn’t a humdinger – “When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, dental hygienists – I tell them I work in an office.” However, tucked into the second paragraph is the sentence that pulls us in and forces us to care about this book – “…I turned up for the interview with a black eye, a couple of missing teeth and a broken arm.” 
  2. If you’ve ever driven around town and thought disparaging things about someone else, say a slow driver who refuses to use a turn signal, this book will resonate. Eleanor’s internal thoughts are the best part of this novel.
  3. Honeyman’s novels has over 6,000 ratings on Amazon and sits at a solid 4.5 stars. 
  4. Eleanor’s loneliness may be identifiable to many. Honeyman writes, “It often feels as if I’m not there, that I’m a figment of my own imagination. There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock” (p. 5). 
  5. It would be rare for a heroine to be able to think a thought like that and for that to seem true to the voice of a young woman, but Honeyman’s protagonist feels quite authentic. She would actually think in words such as gossamer and dandelion clock
  6. Not everyone loves this book. Many were disturbed by some of the subject matter (childhood trauma) and Eleanor’s mocking thoughts and behaviors, even if they are a coping mechanism for her pain. 
  7. Jeeves gives this novel 4 stars. He loved the witty dialogue (internal and external) and general tone, but he did think certain parts were… well…. formulaic. 
  8. Eleanor Oliphant reminds us of the importance of friendship, the power of loneliness and the beauty of being accepted, flaws and all. 
  9. This is Honeyman’s debut novel, and we’re hoping she writes more. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland, so we’re encouraged that with all that rain, Honeyman will stay indoors and write wildly into the night. 
  10. If you like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you may also like Maria Semple’s novels, Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will be Different. If you have the stomach for this sort of subject matter, Benjamin Ludwig’s Ginny Moon is a true page-turner. 

We love sharing books with everyone and anyone who’s got a review, comment, thought, critique or favorite quote to send along. Feel free to write to us at editor@outreachnc.com and let us know your thoughts on Honeyman’s novel and her quirky heroine. Next month we look forward to Marilynne Robinson’s award-winning novel Gilead.