Review: A completely fine debut novel faces loneliness

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When we first meet namesake character of "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" by Gail Honeyman, she lives alone in a small apartment in Glasgow. She is withdrawn, socially awkward, and doesn't have any friends. She spends her weekends alone at home, consuming vast amounts of vodka and pizza. Once a week, she has a conversation with her mother.

On weekdays, Eleanor follows a strict routine: She gets to work at 8.30 every morning, listens to "The Archers" every evening, and is in bed by 10 p.m., where she reads for half an hour before putting out the light.

At work, Eleanor avoids her colleagues, burying herself in her work, and timing her departure each evening so that she doesn't bump into them on the way out. It's her way of avoiding all those awkward social questions. "What are you up to tonight? Plans for the weekend? Booked a holiday yet?"

When Eleanor's computer freezes at work one day, she is forced to track down the new computer technician, Raymond, for assistance. She is not impressed with what she finds. Raymond is everything Eleanor is not, chaotic, haphazard, and disorganized. He's also a scruffy dresser.

One night, as she leaves the office, Raymond is there to hold the door for her. As they exit, they witness a man collapse on the other side of the street.

"He's drunk," Eleanor says. But Raymond rushes to help the man and urges Eleanor to call an ambulance. And so they are thrown together.

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is a delightful novel about loneliness and friendship. It's quirky and amusing and full of heart. Eleanor is a rich character, with a troubled past that she slowly learns to accept. In so doing, she takes the first tentative steps into a new world where friendship is possible. This is a charming read.

Gail Honeyman was born and raised in Stirling, Scotland. She attended Glasgow University, where she studied French language and literature, and Oxford University, where she studied French poetry. "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is her debut novel, for which she won the 2017 Costa First Novel Award. She lives in Glasgow.

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is available at The Bennington Bookshop, or can be purchased online here: benningtonbookshop.com/book/9780735220690

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