Oh, Eleanor, you ARE fine. You are a finely written, complicated character that author Gail Honeyman made us really care about. It takes a deft touch to create a character who is cranky, anti-social, poorly adjusted and deeply damaged…and then help us learn to love her.
At least that’s how it worked for me when I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. But you and your book club may disagree, which is why this makes for a robust book club read. It’s certainly a popular pick, because in the year following its release, it sat high on the sales charts for both the US and the UK.
But Eleanor Oliphant is more than popular, it also makes great conversation fodder for its themes of loneliness, trauma and the value of unlikely friendships (including cats).
Get your conversation started with our Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine book club questions. Start with the synopsis? Did it accurately represent your experience of the book? Then move on to the discussion questions and some thought provoking reviews. Finally, if you liked Eleanor, then we’ve got three read-alikes for you to add to your TBR pile.
Eleanor Oliphant is Complete Fine Synopsis
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
The only way to survive is to open your heart.
10 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine Book Club Questions
- “If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” Even if you haven’t had a childhood like Eleanor’s, we all feel like this at times. Share a story about when you said fine when you really weren’t.
- There has been a lot of chatter about whether or not Eleanor is neurodiverse, autistic or “somewhere on the spectrum” Eleanor definitely exhibits black and white thinking, she’s blind to key social cues and is extremely particular about routines. But then she also has flashbacks, substance abuse and isolation. Honeywell has said that she didn’t write Eleanor with that a neurodiverse intent, but rather Eleanor’s behavior is as a result of her trauma and loneliness. But nonetheless, many readers saw Eleanor as on the spectrum. How did did you interpret her behavior? And did your opinion about it change over the course of the book?
- “There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock.” Well, that is just a lovely bit of descriptive writing. How did you find the writing style of the book? What about it kept you engaged?
- “There have been times when I felt that I might die of loneliness. People sometimes say they might die of boredom, that they’re dying for a cup of tea, but for me, dying of loneliness is not a hyperbole.” And indeed, Eleanor is very lonely– it’s a major theme of the book. How did you respond to Eleanor’s loneliness?
- Let’s discuss Raymond’s relationship with Eleanor. Does he have romantic feelings for her? Or is he just a good friend? Does he even know how he feels? Talk about the many small ways in which he helped Eleanor?
- Other than Raymond, Eleanor’s co-workers make no effort to understand or befriend her. If fact, they are rather immature and gossipy about her. There is a chicken/egg question here. How much of this behavior is Eleanor causing with her own remote and caustic behavior, and how much do the rude co-workers contribute to Eleanor’s feelings of isolation?
- Elinor and Raymond help Sammy after he collapses in the street. The book seems to take a turn at this juncture. How were Elinore’s interactions with Sammy and his family important to her journey?
- Elinor becomes simply obsessed with local rock musician Jonnie. She stalks him online. She goes to his apartment. She spruces up her wardrobe. It’s very out of character regarding her relationships with her co-workers and the world at large. Why this behavior? And why now?
- How did Honeywell lay the groundwork for the final twist? Some reviewers wish that the mother was alive so that Eleanor can confront her. Others are fine with the twist. How did you respond to it? Did you see it coming?
- Will Eleanor ultimately be completely fine?
Selected Reviews for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
“All of us have felt alone at some point in our lives, Eleanor’s story serves as a reminder that we are a lot more alike than we realise. A bit of kindness can go such a long way, friendship can truly be life saving.”
“Eleanor Oliphant is a good example of a well-written unlikeable character. She is aloof, judgemental, uncomfortably awkward, and I hated her until I didn’t.”
“Eleanor’s social awkwardness, her lack of a filter, her inability to grasp exactly how people expect her to behave, actually hides a great deal of secret pain, pain and memories even she has hidden. And when she is forced to start recognizing just what a burden she has carried for so much of her life, and who was responsible, it threatens to break her. Suddenly she realizes she may need to do something she never has—depend on others, and reveal things about herself she’s always kept hidden, in order to move forward. If she wants to.”
“Unlike some readers, I didn’t find the story at all funny. I found it tragically, tragically sad, though I took comfort in Eleanor’s progress over time and her support from her new and growing circle of friends.”
3 Books Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
For more Scottish settings, try this list of books set in Scotland. We’ve also got a book club guide for The Library of Lost and Found, featuring a lonely librarian just now coming to terms with the painful events of her childhood. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was also featured as a Reeses Book Club pick, and we have guide for more of Reese’s picks.
by Rachel Joyce
Poor Harold. A deep sadness has compelled him to take a most unlikely 600 mile quest to visit an old flame. He becomes an unwilling media sensation and accrues an motley cast of disciples along the way. If you are feeling out of sorts, or up for a good long walk, or both, read this book. No spoilers, but like Eleanor, Harold is on an emotional journey and he has a few secrets up his sleeve.
by Mark Haddon
If you were interested in Eleanor’s off kilter social behavior (and felt that she was on the spectrum), then you may want to read Haddon’s book. The main character 15 year-old Christopher, is somewhere on the spectrum. He has a lot of spatial awareness, an aversion to touch, is obsessive about math and has serious notetaking habits.
Christopher is hurting and he channels his energy into investigating the death of a dog in his neighborhood. The investigation takes him on an epic quest as he tries to make sense of and find his place in his complicated world. A lot of secrets get unearthed along the way
by Rosamund Pilcher
If you are interested in reading more books that feature a Scottish setting and people problems, then check out Winter Solstice.
In this quiet story, five people, who are each dealing with a personal tragedy find themselves together in Scotland. They are each trying to find a way forward and are helped by mutual company, a cozy old house, wood fire and whiskey.
“Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. A brief time, when darkness predominates. Yet in this brief time, Rosamund Pilcher has set a story filled with light and warmth.”
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