Pressing a new book into someone’s hands can often feel risky – what if they hate it?? – but Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is not one of those books. I have given this book to countless colleagues, authors, agents and friends and always, always, felt entirely confident that they will find the book as special as I did the first time.
I picked up the manuscript. From the very first page the reader knows that Eleanor is a character like no other – an unusual and insightful woman who looks at the world in a slightly different way, a woman with whom you feel exasperated, with whom you’ll laugh and cry, and a woman who will win your empathy in the most heartbreaking of ways. Reading Gail’s words, you are in the hands of a master storyteller, a writer with the utmost grasp of her tale and a unique voice that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.
Laugh-out-loud funny, always original and deeply, deeply moving, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine really is the perfect book.
Words: Martha Ashby, HarperFiction Editorial Director
Gail Honeyman discusses the background to her debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine started with two related ideas. The first was loneliness, an issue that’s thankfully now starting to receive more attention as we begin to understand more about its often devastating consequences. I remembered reading an article in which a young woman living in a big city said that, unless she went out of her way to make arrangements in advance, she’d often find herself not speaking to another human being from the time she left work on Friday night until her return to the office on Monday morning, and not by choice.
I started to wonder about how such a situation could come about. When loneliness is discussed, it’s often the context of the elderly, but I began to think about how it might manifest itself in younger people, and whether the issues might be slightly different for them. Was it harder to talk about, or even to identify, because their loneliness didn’t result from, say, the death of a spouse after decades of marriage, or of becoming housebound
due to age-related illness? Did social media have an impact and, if so, was it positive or negative? Was it worse or better to find yourself lonely in a big city rather than in a small town or a village? In the end, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how a young woman with no family nearby could find herself in the situation described in the article; moving to a new city, she might rent a one bedroom flat or a bedsit, take a job in a small firm where she had nothing in common with her colleagues… Narratively, the possibilities began to intrigue me.
The other strand that helped inform the book was the idea of social awkwardness. Only a few fortunate people are blessed with the ability to make effortless, charming small talk with strangers, and the rest of us just try to muddle along as best we can. However, most people have, at some point, found themselves struggling to maintain a more than usually stilted exchange with someone whose conversation and demeanour just seem a bit awkward.
It struck me that I’d never given much thought as to whether there might be a reason for this, something that helped to explain that person’s awkwardness. Might there perhaps be something in their background or childhood experiences, some life event that had helped to shape them in this particular way?
I realised that I wanted to tell a story about someone like this, or, rather, someone who’d ended up like this, living a small life. A lonely person, a slightly awkward person, and someone in whom loneliness and social awkwardness had become entwined and self-perpetuating. I wanted to tell the story of how this had happened to her, and of what happened to her next, and this became the story of Eleanor Oliphant.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?
‘Funny, touching and unpredictable’ Jojo Moyes
‘Heartwrenching and wonderful’ Nina Stibbe
‘Deft, compassionate and moving’ Paula McLain
‘I adored it. Skilled, perceptive, Eleanor’s world will feel familiar to you from the very first page. An outstanding debut!’ Joanna Cannon
Posted on April 6, 2018 by Andrea