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Honeyman's 'Eleanor Oliphant' is endearing, whip-smart read

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/8/2017 By Christina Ledbetter, Associated Press

"Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" (Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking), by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant has her life together, or so she would like you to believe. She works in an office, she binge drinks alone every weekend in her apartment and wears gloves indoors when her eczema threatens to flare. What's more, Eleanor has fallen in love (if from afar) with a musician. While most of the people in her life view her as a painfully awkward presence with bizarre social skills, Eleanor handily attributes their perceptions to their own stupidity. Besides, though her mother is cruel and belittling, she seems in agreement with Eleanor's curious lifestyle. Thus begins Gail Honeyman's outstanding debut novel, "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine."

Shortly after Eleanor lays eyes on the love of her life, she meets Raymond, a shabby guy from the IT department, plus an elderly gentleman, Sammy, who takes a spill in the street. This provides the highest quantity of human interaction that Eleanor has had in years, and from here, her new relationships send her life into uncharted territory.

As the story progresses, the author drops hints that Eleanor has survived an atrocious calamity. Thus, the book's suspense is rooted just as much from a desperation to find out what happened in Eleanor's past as it does from a need to know that she'll be OK in the future. Why the concern over her future? Because though Eleanor is rude, peculiar and overwhelmingly snobby, she is also completely endearing.

Honeyman's craft with prose is strikingly effective and utterly smart. Instead of laying all of Eleanor's cards on the table, she reveals her protagonist's oddities through the perplexed and, at times, horrified reactions of co-workers, bartenders and acquaintances.

Perfectly paced, odd, shocking and hilarious, "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine" is a fascinating story about loneliness, hope, tragedy and humanity. Honeyman's delivery is wickedly good, and Eleanor won't leave you anytime soon.

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