Sometimes I read a book that I really wish I’d written; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is one.
Really it was down to luck that I read it at all. I switched on the radio to take my mind off paying bills and updating my budget (yes, I really am that boring), and the programme happened to be Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, not a programme I listen to regularly, and it happened to be the start of a new book, which happened to be this book. And the programme very quickly stopped being background noise because the narrator’s voice, Eleanor’s voice, was so odd and original I couldn’t but stop and listen. Gail Honeyman, I thought, why haven’t I heard of you? So I googled her and learned that EOICF is her first published novel. No surprise, then, that it won the Costa First Novel of the Year Award in 2017.
I skipped the remaining episodes of Book at Bedtime, preferring to read the book for myself. Eleanor is nearly thirty, a finance clerk, and lives alone. She works from 8:30 to 5:30 Monday to Friday, and spends each weekend home alone with a bottle of Chianti and two bottles of vodka, pacing her drinking so as to be “neither drunk nor sober”. Oh, and every Wednesday she talks to Mummy.
Her ‘completely fine’ routine is disrupted by a series of random events: a new employee, Raymond from IT, an old man, Sammy, who collapses in the street, and the man who she thinks could be ‘the one’…
EOICF is funny, sad, disturbing, uplifting. Eleanor is a child-woman, very clever but also staggeringly green, and her voice is distinctive and believable from the first page to the last. That isn’t to say there aren’t any bum notes (“an Oliphant in the room” would have been better cut). But basically this is a good read from start to finish.
And, best of all, just when you think you know how everything is going to turn out, there’s a Sixth Sense^ style twist in the tale that will make you re-appraise what you think you’ve read and want to start reading all over again to see how you missed it! (^Yes, I really do mean the Bruce Willis film.)
Rating: *** Highly recommended