Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
By Gail Honeyman, A well-meaning but flawed story about isolation and mental illness
I think pretty much everyone else has read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by now, or at least everyone among book bloggers, so I’m fairly late to this party.
So, I should probably warn you before I get into the review that I did not love this book as much as most people did. So, if you really loved this book and don’t want to hear anything negative about it, I’d recommend just skipping this review. Alright, that’s my warning.
For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.
In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, our protagonist is a damaged young woman. From the onset, it’s clear there’s something “off” about her that goes past mere social awkwardness.
Eleanor Oliphant’s face is scarred, and her mother is institutionalized. She also receives periodic visits from a social worker, who brings up a past incident involving a fire that Eleanor refuses to discuss.
Eleanor’s background is revealed slowly throughout the book, but it’s, of course, one that includes various instances of both trauma and abuse. However, though her relationships, both real and imagined, she begins on the path to recovery — and even romance.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a fast and accessible read. It’s a book about loneliness, isolation and a need for connection that can ring true to many people, including those who don’t suffer to quite the same degree as this protagonist.
As you might expect, the book is mainly about Eleanor’s journey to reintegrate herself with society. Despite its somewhat dark premise of a woman with a mental illness who has suffered abuse, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is actually a lighthearted and rather heartwarming story.
It’d add the caveat, however, that this requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy. I think the attempt to make Eleanor Oliphant a character people can identify with also made her a bit unbelievable. Her journey, while sweet and upbeat, seems unrealistic considering the background the author has given her. Can a makeover cure years of abuse? Eleanor Oliphant seems to think so.
The ease and speed with which she’s able to reintegrate with society seems at odds with her difficult and troubled past as well as the state of her mental wellness. (If it was that easy, why didn’t this happen sooner?)
(Update: Here is a review of this book from someone who is more knowledgeable than I am about the care system, which is worth taking a look about.)
And one of the major plotlines resolves with her just realizing out of the blue that her behavior is abnormal. And no one with serious issues makes huge progress in their first therapy session — that’s just not how that works.
As much as I would like reality to be otherwise, the fact is that trauma and overcoming it often doesn’t have the neat progressions and the tidy endings that are depicted in Eleanor Oliphant. This is not to say there’s nothing to be gained from this empathetically-told story — I think everyone could use a reminder to have patience with the lonely oddballs out there. However, I do think the story sort of minimizes how frustrating and slow progress can be — even when surrounded by well-meaning individuals — when dealing with serious mental illnesses and substance abuse.
Beyond that, I had a really hard time understanding the contours of Eleanor’s personality and neuroses. It seems to have a little bit of everything in there, and it wasn’t really consistently defined.
Questions: Why is she computer illiterate at the age of 30 but somehow knows how to stalk someone via social media? How does she have her level of mental and social issues but is able to transform into a stylish person on a dime when required? Was it really necessary for her to have all these issues, plus alcoholism and clinical depression (and back pain, eczema, etc.) on top of it?
More questions: Why does she drink “Magners Irish Cider” constantly and have no clue what cider is even though it’s written on the label — I thought she was someone who was very detail oriented? Why is her culinary palette too fancy to know what baked beans or fish fingers are, but she knows what jelly beans and doughnuts are? Why is it that she doesn’t understand to be kind about someone’s husband getting cancer but then narrates things such as “these days, loneliness is the new cancer”?
Also: Why does she know what constitutes an appropriate romantic date (playing music and chilled champagne on Valentine’s day) but thinks its okay to buy an old man a Playboy as a get-well-soon gift? Why is she only now discovering different genres of music but seems to know what pop music is? Why does she know what artificial lashes are and how they’re attached, but doesn’t know what a “smokey eye” is? How does she manage to complete crosswords when she doesn’t know what really basic cultural terms are?
I’m sure there are more, but I’ll stop here for now. But you get the point.
Eleanor Oliphant Movie Adaptation (Status, Cast, Etc.)
There’s a movie adaptation of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine that is currently in development (as of April 2019). That means it’s still pretty early on in the process, though the book was originally optioned in May 2017. So far, no cast has been reported apart from Reese Witherspoon being listed as a cast member.
Reese Witherspoon’s production company Hello Sunshine will be producing it. As reported in December 2018, the screenplay will be authored by Liz Hannah, who also wrote Steven Spielberg’s “The Post.”
For more details, see Everything We Know about the Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine Movie.
Read it Or Skip it?
Even with whatever caveats I have about the level of realism and inconsistencies in this story, it remains an accessible and sweet story with a well-meaning lesson to impart.
The book has been very well received (Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights), and I can understand why — it’s one that many people can find something to like about if they allow themselves and suspend their disbelief.
However, people who are naturally more cynical or critical or interested in realism or a serious look at mental disorders will have to put those things aside for a bit or just skip this book altogether. I’m not sure this book was a good fit for me, honestly. I also guessed the twist at the end about 50 pages in, which didn’t really help my enjoyment of the book.
That said, if you read this book and it pushes you to be a little kinder or more patient to that one weird person that everyone knows then clearly this book has done it’s job — I would just add that making any progress with people who suffer from a history of mental illness and trauma may require much more patience and quite a bit more effort than is advertised in this book.
I’m sure a bunch of you have already read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine — what did you think? See Eleanor Oliphant on Amazon.
P.S. If you liked this and are interested in books about loners and oddballs, I’d strongly recommend The Rosie Project. It’s a sweet, funny and romantic story about a man who is on the autism spectrum trying to find love.
Update: So, there are a number of questions that get asked frequently, so I’ve compiled the answers here. For answers to stuff like, what’s the plot twist in Eleanor Oliphant? Or, is Eleanor Oliphant autistic/on the spectrum/does she has Asperger’s Syndrome? Plus, some other stuff, see Questions and Answers about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
Good DaysChapters 1 - 8 Eleanor Oliphant, 29, works in a office. Her coworkers make fun of her because she is awkward. She calls her mother frequently, but her mom is mean to her. She has back pain, eczema, bunions. She is socially withdrawn but very articulate. Her face is partially scarred from fire. She goes to a concert and becomes obsessed with the singer (Johnnie Lomond). She buys a laptop so she can stalk him online. She ends up figuring out where he lives and checking out his home (from outside). Raymond is a new co-worker. She and Raymond see an old man (Sammy) fall over while crossing the street, and they call an ambulance. They later visit him in the hospital. After the visit, she gets a drink with Raymond. A social worker comes to check on Eleanor and refers to an "incident" that occurred in her past where she ended up being hospitalized for a long time. Eleanor case file describes her childhood with her foster homes, sobbing at night, hysterics, etc. Chapters 9 - 25 Raymond invites Eleanor to see his mom who is older and in need of company. His mom talks about their family and shows her old photos, but when the topic of Eleanor's family comes up, Eleanor finds herself crying. In preparation of attending another Johnnie Lomond concert, she gets waxed, her nails done, gets a makeover, new shoes, etc. But the concert is sold out so she can't get in. Instead, she stalks him at a Tesco (convenience store) where she buys alcohol (she's an alcoholic). She and Raymond see Sammy again when he is awake, and promise to visit again soon. When they do, he invites them to a party. At Sammy's party, she meets his daughter Laura who offers to give her a better haircut. Raymond tells her about getting his heart broken. Eleanor tells him about being in abusive relationship with a guy, Declan. The next day, Raymond invites her to Sammy's son's birthday party and they start regularly meeting for lunch. Eleanor gets offered a promotion at work. She starts getting compliments on her appearance at work. Her mom continues to belittle her despite everything. Sammy passes away, which sends Eleanor into a bout of drinking. Raymond finds her at the bar and she ends up telling him about the fire at her house when she was 10 which caused her scars.
Bad DaysChapters 26 - 40 Eleanor finally attends Johnny's next concert and realizes how delusional she's been. Standing in the crowd at the concert, it dawn s on her that he has no clue who she is. She's in love with a man she's never met. She goes on a drinking binge. Finally Raymond shows up at her place after many days to check on her. He wants her to see a therapist. Raymond brings her a pet cat. She meets with Maria Temple, who helps her process her feelings bout her Johnny obsession and her fear of her mom. Eleanor agrees to continue seeing her. Her mom is not happy about the therapist. After a few weeks of therapy, Eleanor reveals that her father was a rapist and her mother was convinced she was meant to be royalty or something. Eleanor has trouble talking about the fire still, which is sealed off from her memory. Raymond googles about the fire and finds some information, but she isn't ready to see it. She finally starts talking about her sister Marianne in therapy. Eventually she reveals that her mom set the fire that Marianne died in, where she was burned. Eleanor decides its time for her mom to no longer be in her life, and she's tells her mom they can't speak any more. Eleanor finally returns to work.
Better DaysChapters 41 - 42 Raymond gently shows her the article about the fire. It reveals that her mom died. The conversations that Eleanor's had with her mom throughout the book where her mom was insulting and belittling her were all in her head. Eleanor realizes what's important is that she survived. Raymond makes plans to see her again and she kisses his cheek.
See Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on Amazon.
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This is a brilliant review! I particularly enjoyed your assessment of the character. It’s definitely on my list of next-buys.
thanks for dropping by!
Your detailed review reads well. I’m not sure my summaries come over to such a high standard.
hi snowgood, thanks for your kind comments, and thanks for reading! :)
I have not read it yet. Sounds interesting.
thanks for reading!
I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like it. Funny you should mention The Rosie Project too. As much as I also enjoyed reading that novel I did feel it kind of romanticised the reality of autism a little. The representation of Asperger’s was great, for the most part, but the romance seemed off for me. Don seemed like too much of a romantic lead. I shouldn’t complain though. I did enjoy it overall.
Yeah, I think that’s a valid criticism of The Rosie Project — in books and TV in general they tend to romanticize autism, starting with the fact that almost any character with autism tends to have very, very high functioning autism. But I think I found it believeable enough that it didn’t bother me.
I think with Eleanor Oliphant part of what bugged me was how much she overcame in a span of 8-ish weeks (the stalking, some type of psychosis, depression, alcoholism, repressed memories) in addition to finding love and winning over her coworkers — it didn’t feel like the author thought through the character enough, and instead just threw everything but the kitchen sink at her
I completely get what you’re saying about Eleanor. It did feel super easy. But I read that as being done for the sake of the narrative. If the book is supposed to be championing opening up to people and talking about your your problems then it needed to show real progress. I know ideally that it would be more realistic but, to ensure she wasn’t dragging the narrative out, real change had to be shown happening. I guess, for me, it was easier to forgive given the purpose.
On the other hand, I felt The Rosie Project simplified everything for superficial reasons: i.e. to get a fairy tale romantic ending. That’s the thing that bugged me. It made it seem like it was saying every desperate or fed up woman just needed to find an autistic man to marry. (I realise I’m being melodramatic here but I hope you’ll forgive me!)
Basically, I think we feel the same but also the complete opposite at the same time. This is why taking about books is so awesome!
I haven’t read it yet but I want to! I’m from England originally but I’m now a US Citizen and I lament the price of books here! When I go to visit family I buy books and mail them to my self on the printed matter mail rate. It’s a lot cheaper – and lighter than baggage fees! Just mark the packages birthday gift/ Christmas etc to avoid customs taxes in the US!!
omg, what a great tip! I definitely didn’t know about that — thank you for the heads up!! :)
Thanks for the review. I haven’t read this yet but have read several comments about it. Thanks to your review, I will read it.
Hi Ron thanks for reading and thanks for dropping by! :)
A great review, I am reading it currently and some of your points I would not have thought of, but do agree with you! 💗
hi Lana, thanks for reading the review! I think I’m probably being fairly nitpicky, hope you’re enjoying the book!
I do like it. 😊
I haven’t read this and I appreciate your very thorough review. Thanks for that. I will be looking for this book.
thank you! hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it!
I really enjoyed reading your review! Very well observed and fair. I loved the book but hadn’t picked up on some of the details you mentioned. Thanks!
thank you very much for reading the review — I’m glad you liked the book! I don’t think this one was the right book for me, but I can definitely understand why it’s a well-loved book
This book is on my TBR list, hopefully get around to reading it soon.
yup this was on my TBR list for a long time as well — hope you like it!
You hit the nail on the head for me with this review. I enjoyed it, but the tone was a little too whimsical to really satisfy – still a valuable message and interesting characters though.
glad to hear it! thanks for dropping by!
Nicely done review. I find that writing a critical review can be diffricult.
Thanks martie! Yes I totally agree — I find it especially hard to write critical reviews when I know that there are commendable aspects of the book as well
Great review! I actually have never read Eleanor Oliphant. I’m a fairly new blogger thought, so I guess I probably should read that one soon too, ha ha!
Thanks Isabell! Hope you like it if you get a chance to read it. Thanks for dropping by!
An excellent and detailed review. :)
Thank you heather for the kind thoughts! :)
Nicely done review.
I actually read and Loved Elanor, I agree that there were inconsistency and other things that would have been better but overall, I enjoyed it very much and gave it 4 stars!
haha, yup I’m definitely in the minority for this this one — I liked parts of it for sure, but I think once I noticed some issues then I had a hard time concentrating on anything other than those things which made it hard for me to be invested in the story. Thanks for your thoughts!
Amazing review. I could feel there were inconsistencies with her character but I couldn’t quite capture it into words. Perhaps, you should be teaching Eleanor about what it means to be detail-oriented. ☺️
Hi Sophia, thanks so much really appreciate it! :)
Great review! I’ve been on the fence about reading this one… I think I might wait for the movie (but of course I would read the book before seeing the movie, haha!).
Honestly, I’m in the minority when it comes to not liking this book so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll like it a lot more than I did, plus it’s a quick read! I bet the movie version would be good too though!
It was a slow read for me but I kept chugging along. I enjoyed the read enough but just didn’t take the plot line seriously
Yeah, it’s a fairly easy book to read but I struggled through it as well despite liking some things about it just because I kept focusing on some of the things that I found to be a little unrealistic. Thanks for dropping by!
I have definitely read mixed reviews about Eleanor…in two minds whether to read it or not…Nevertheless, I already bought a copy of it and it’s on my TBR now…It hasn’t called out to me yet…So I’m just gonna leave it there for now :D
Most people seem to really like the book, I’m definitely in the minority here when it comes to not liking it as much, plus it’s a pretty easy read — hope you like it if you end up reading it!
TQ! But I know it’ll be awhile before I get to it :)
I agree! I think the book was very nice and sweet, and I did like the character of Eleanor, overall it seemed a bit stereotypical and the suspense wasn’t built as well as I would have liked. Great review :)
thank you! there were definitely still things I liked about it — I probably should have expanded on those things more as well — thanks for reading!
Hi, enjoyed this review. I’ve not read it as another book manic told me similar to your thoughts. So with that and the fact my reading pile was toppling I thought I’d wait.
I may read it one day but for now, happy to pass!
thank you! and thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Thanks for this, fantastic review. I’ll be skipping the book now.
I don’t mind suspension of disbelief (we are reading fiction after all), but the level of inconsistencies you’ve touched on does put me off.
I wouldn’t mind so much with the contradiction in narrative and behaviour, if the autism label wasn’t thrown in there. Nothing you’ve described points to autism, except the not understanding cancer victim etiquette part, which, as you say, is contradicted by the narrative.
I’d venture a guess that the autism trait was a marketing tactic, by author or editor. It definitely sounds like it was added in retrospect.
Is that too cynical? Or is that the world we live in?
Hi Jambo, thanks for your thoughts — I should probably clarify though it’s not explicitly stated that she is autistic. Instead she displays certain characteristics such has having an intense interest in a small amount of niche things and lack of awareness about others’ emotions, etc. But again, it’s not consistent, other parts of the book end up contradicting it.
You could argue that it’s not necessarily autism but for me it’s not worth sitting around debating mostly because I don’t think the author has a clearly defined set of rules about her personality so it’s not an interesting discussion in my opinion.
On the back of your review, I’ve started reading this book now. Thankyou
glad to hear it, hope you like it!
Ahhhh hahah I haven’t read it either! But yes! I usually love the UK covers of books better than the US versions as well! Also, now I want to move “Eleanor Oliphant” to the top of my reading list but I have so many other books to read too 🙈. Anyway, great review! (Also LOVED “The Rosie Project,” can’t wait for the third book to come out in Feb!)
Thank you! And yes managing the TBR is an eternal battlle haha :)
Hey, the bibliophile. I loved your reviews. How often do you write? I would love to read more. Great content btw.
Hey Nailah, thanks for question — yeah it really varies, my goal is to post about once a week but in practice I tend to post a lot for a month or so and then I’ll get busy and not post anything for a few weeks. I’m trying to be more consistent but life gets in the way!
I enjoyed your review. I’m glad you didn’t have to schlep this book all around Europe.
haha thank you!
I loved this book — I’m sad you didn’t like it, I guess I didn’t realy notice any of the things you bring up when I read it. It’s so interesting how people can have such different experiences reading the same book. Great review!
Thank you! I totally agree it makes talking about books a lot more fun! Thanks for dropping by! :)
I have a copy, but I’m even later to the party than you and haven’t read it yet! I am tickled by the news that people keep asking librarians for “Oliver Elephant is Completely Fine” ;)
hahaha that could be a really cute kids book! Oliver the Elephant sounds like he’d have a tophat and a cane or something :)
I’ve not read this book, but I have picked it up quite often in the bookstore.
I was glad to read your analysis beforehand. I won’t expect quite so much when I finally do read it.
There’s definitely things to like about it as well, I do hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it!
Book Depository is owned by Amazon so if you’re looking for a non-Amazon alternative, Wordery is also UK-based and offers free worldwide delivery! They’re my absolute faves & I’ve been using them for years x
oh interesting. I hadno idea. I will definitely look into it — appreciate the heads up!
No problem! I know a lot of book lovers don’t like Amazon so I always like to remind people of the alternatives! 😜
Thanks for the honest review.
Thanks for dropping by Christine!
I haven’t read this one yet though just got it recently. Thank you for the well-balanced review. Sorry to hear that the book wasn’t for you though.
Thanks Diana! And thanks for reading! There were still things I liked about it, so I hope you enjoy it!
Definitely going to give this book a read! Thanks for the review!
That’s great to hear, and thanks for dropping by!
Agree completely! Also, I thought the twist revealed major issues that were inconsistent with how far along she supposedly was with her recovery by that point. (Just discovered this blog when you liked a post of mine and look forward to reading more!)
Thanks for reading! The premise of your blog is really interesting! I’m looking forward to following along! :)
THANKS TO GOD, I found your blog for such extensive reviews! lately I was thinking to buy this one but I kinda stopped myself and bought perks of being a wallflower but after reading this post, I am quite sure about my choices
Thanks for dropping by and leaving your thoughts! I really liked Perks of Being a Wallflower when I read it a long time ago. That being said, I’m definitely in the minority on this book, so you might love it anyway. Happy reading!
Thanks for this fabulous review. I haven’t read Eleanor Oliphant, but it’s on my ‘to be read’ list now. As a Bipolar, sometimes lonely loner, writer, you’ve peaked my curiosity.
Hi Josephine, thanks so much for your thoughts and for reading! Hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it!
Fantastic review. I am in awe with such great details about the book starting with the UK vs US cover war. I like it.
Hi Roosevelt, thank you! And thanks for dropping by!
I loved Eleanor Oliphant when I first read it in February but I do like hearing different opinions on books. I think I just didn’t pick up on all the inconsistencies you noticed. This was a great review and I’ll defietly be picking up the Rosie Project sometime in the near future
Thanks for reading the review! And I agree, I enjoy reading reviews even if they aren’t consistent with my thoughts on a book. I really loved the Rosie Project, so I hope you like it too! Thanks for dropping by!
I really enjoyed reading this book and your excellently crafted review has brought it all back to me. Thank you so much!
Lovely and in-depth review. I agree completely about the UK cover being SO much better than the US version.
I tried reading this for our book club this month but I only made it through the first 7 chapters. I went looking for some overviews or reviews to prep for our meeting and found yours. Its spot on! I understood by chapter 3 that Elenors perspective was not reality for everyone else and so the other chapters I did read felt like they dragged on. Thank you for the great summary and review!
thank you! hope it was helpful and have a fun book club meeting! :)
You think YOU were late getting to this book? I just finished it today! I absolutely agree with you about how a major plot point was resolved via a sudden burst of self awareness but I don’t agree with the thrust of your other points (also, she didn’t actually have bunions!). It has taken her 2 decades to get to the point where she is at all able to do the things she now does and of course only at the urging of another character. This is normal plot development (particularly as publishers have a maximum number of pages they demand). I agree with some of your smaller points about apparent inconsistencies however Eleanor is a quirky character who may be “on the spectrum” so those things didn’t bother me. She didn’t suddenly know how to dress well- someone told her how, etc. These are just important plot devices. Anyway I enjoyed the book and look forward to the movie – even though, like you, I guessed the plot twist a couple of dozen pages into the book… altho not the complete twist ;-)
PS. the protagonist’s vocabulary is definitely not “accessible,” I would guess, to an average North American audience.
I can’t seem to find the cover comparison?
oh, I think I removed it at some point, sorry!