Eleanor Oliphant taught herself how to survive – but she doesn’t know how to live. This unsettling story shows an extraordinary young woman locked in a way of life that provides the only sort of security she knows.

It’s a life of absolute routine: wearing the same clothes every day, eating the same meal deal at lunchtimes, and drinking two bottles of vodka every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant views the world around her from her position as an outsider. But the lack of regard and respect shown to her by work colleagues is directed straight back at them – and all the other people she meets.

She judges everyone against the standards that her devastating early life imposed on her.

Her colleagues laugh behind her back and consider her ‘mental’, their reaction echoing the responses of so many of us when confronted by someone who is ‘other’.

Eleanor Oliphant 1

But Eleanor is not mental. She’s psychologically damaged, hopelessly conflicted and desperately lonely, and many of her responses to people and situations might make readers squirm with embarrassment, but they are instant and honest – and some might also resonate with those of us too timid on occasion to say what we really feel.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine offers the idea that we might think about doing more than simply ignoring someone’s situation or leaving symbols of balloons and tea lights in a place, rather than words of comfort and friendship to a ‘real’ person.

Act of kindness

This debut novel, beautifully written by Gail Honeyman, is one readers will find hard to put down as we read on, ever hopeful that Eleanor will emerge from behind the façade of her incomprehension to modern life.

We watch as a sudden act of kindness starts the disentangling of her old life and we see the opening up of new possibilities.

Eleanor must face the truth about her existence, her past and the shocking events that led to her being the woman she has been, and we thump the air in triumph when Eleanor takes a tentative step out into the light.

I doubt she’ll ever answer the vacuous Facebook question: ‘U OK, hun?’ But she’s getting there.

Eleanor Oliphant might have been completely fine, but by the end of the book, we can be fairly confident she’ll accept the changes offered to her to be more than fine.