Book notes: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman book summary review and key ideas.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel 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. . .” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

This book was recommended to me by my Silent Book Club and I am excited to read it. I have no idea what it’s about except from what I read on the synopsis so we’ll see how this goes.

Key notes:

  • Reader’s note: So far I’m just following along with the story, but the main protagonist is a very odd and quirky woman. She seems to have some sort of history or past incidents that really affected her. I think this involves her mom or something being in a mental facility or hospital
  • Reader’s note: She’s very familiar to the woman in the last book I read Convenience Store Woman, except this woman does have emotions and feelings. She just doesn’t know anything about normal people etiquette in society. She seems like a loner but sort of trying to figure out how to be social. So many times she doesn’t understand why people do the things they do
  • One weird quirk she had growing up with her mom fed her a diet a very fancy and taught her to look down on the tendencies of the poor and lower class people
  • This incident has something to do with a fire and part of her body being burned or scarred
  • The experience with her meeting and talking to the man they saved, Sammy, and his warm gratitude towards her made her feel something that she really liked and was unaccustomed to
    • This shows that she does crave human connection but probably isn’t used to it, but rather is very socially awkward
  • Now she’s talking about how strange it was to have PE in school and the absurdity of it
    • It’s like she’s an alien from another planet and is observing the strange customs of humans and trying to understand why they do these things
  • She’s noticed that people who routinely wear athletic wear hardly are the type to participate in those activities
  • She surprisingly admitted to Raymond’s mom that she wished she had siblings
    • She said it’s probably one of the greatest sources of sadness in her life
  • To her surprise she found herself sobbing when Mrs. Gibbons asked her about her relationship with her parents
  • She found all of this new contact and new people and new adventures a bit overwhelming but also pleasant
    • She also noticed he received two instances of warm, genuine gratitude in one day which she enjoyed it 
  • Reader’s note: I think it is funny how she has this girlish romance with this musician she has never met and it’s so idealistic
    • She’s also simultaneously a very grown adult and very professional with people around her
  • Sammy’s family invited Raymond and Eleanor to their welcome home party
  • Reader’s note: I think it’s pretty cool that she’s so open to try new things and go to these events of people even despite her bad experiences in the past
    • She’s taking a leap of faith and acting in courage, which I respect
  • She’s very self-respecting and has high standards for cleanliness
    • She knows she’s not fashionable but it doesn’t bother her because she keeps herself healthy and presentable
  • Reader’s note: I like how she’s very sensible and logical with what she does in her decisions throughout her day
    • It’s interesting to follow her thought process which makes a lot of sense and seems pretty calculated
    • I guess I can relate because I feel like my personality type is similar
  • Reader’s note: Wow, her mom is such a bitch. After hearing this conversation of her mom just being so toxic and condescending towards her. It makes sense why she acts this way. Actually, I’m surprised she seems generally optimistic despite her mom’s toxic behavior. It must be because she has her own freedom and space from her mom
  • She thinks it’s best to take care of yourself, but she often wondered what it would be like to have a cousin, friend, or sibling you can call on at anytime when you need them and have unplanned time together 
  • She thought it was weird how when people say one time they really mean another time
    • Raymond couldn’t answer why it’s like that
  • Reader’s note: It’s funny because she says I never thought about having another job. She reminds me of the lady in the last book I read. Both of them were so good and so involved in their work that they never even thought about doing anything else
  • This is the first time in nine years that she’s eaten lunch with someone else
    • She also enjoys the feeling of someone paying for her food and not expecting anything in return
  • She noticed all the small deeds and acts of kindness other people did for her and all of their considerations
    • She wondered what it would be like for her to do that for others
  • She had an interesting experience dancing for the first time
    • She thought it was a very logical and enjoyable thing with people, and that it was very easy 
  • She was surprised at the elements of successful of social integration, as she called it
    • Just by simply doing your hair, putting on lipstick, and alternating her clothing, she get positive reactions from her coworkers
  • She enjoyed the moment when Raymond congratulated her on her promotion and gave her a high five
  • Eleanor mentioned that it’s a weird source of strength that anything she might brace herself for is not worse than what she’s already gone through
    • Reader’s note: I really like her optimism and positivity 
  • Eleanor heard the news about Sammy and really wished that Nora did not experience her dad dying
    • Eleanor even mentioned she would happily assume the burden if she could as she would hardly notice it to what she’s already carry
  • Reader’s note: Wow, it’s so touching that Eleanor has so much empathy and really cares about other people, even despite her toxic upbringing with her mother, being socially awkward, and potentially having a low self-esteem. It’s very heartwarming and inspirational
  • She felt bad and sorry for all of these nice people who didn’t deserve all the bad things happening to them
    • Just like the waiter and his wife being terminal. It was one of the many instances where tears just started to come out
  • She noticed that it is nice to have someone touch her. Like it was a mammal craving that everyone likes 
  • She noted that being feminine took a lot of advanced planning and a lot of time to do anything
  • She found that social success is founded upon pretending just a little and doing things you don’t want to do
    • She resolve a long time ago to fly solo instead of doing things and being with people she didn’t want to
  • They say grief is the price we pay for love. The price is far too high she thinks
  • Reader’s note: It’s crazy how she had this tragic story of getting burned from an intentional fire and then growing up in the foster care and child services system. Yet despite that, her outlook is that she feels extremely lucky. She understands that other children around the world face even much worse circumstances. I admire her perspective and gratitude, and having this positive attitude despite it all 
  • After a long time, she finally found a pal in Raymond
  • These days, loneliness is the new cancer
    • It’s something so horrifying that you don’t speak about but it is so deadly and hurtful
    • People don’t want to hear about
  • She discovered that when you are friends with someone, they will make an effort to maintain a relationship even if the person becomes difficult or sad
  • She wondered what it must be like to have people you can count on that will be there for you like close friends or family 
  • She considered herself lucky to have seen a bit of this phenomenon she called unconditional love from Raymond
  • When speaking with the therapist, she learned that people, especially children, have emotional needs that need to be met when growing up
  • Raymond brought Eleanor a new cat whom she named Glenn
    • They seem to be getting along fine and Eleanor agreed to take care of her
  • She finally admitted that he had a little sister named Marianne
  • She realize that she was too quick to judge people
  • She realized that her own voice was very sensible and rational
    • The judgmental side of her brain was from her mom
  • She finally admitted that her mom died in the fire and tried to kill them, but only her little sister died
    • She realized that she needed to forgive herself and let go of the guilt
  • She read the newspaper with Raymond that explained how their mom started a fire deliberately to kill them. She give them a sedative and restrained them
  • Eleanor survived and tried to go back in to save her sister, but her sister and her mother ended up dying

Main ideas / Themes:

Loneliness is the New Cancer

This was an interesting idea that Eleanor brought up that I think is very important to dissect. Even though Eleanor seems to be living a content life, it’s clear from the way she suppresses her emotions and really gravitates towards human interaction that she’s very lonely. She mentions several times how she feels grateful for her life as it could have always been worse. However, she realizes that after becoming friends with Raymond that she’s been lonely for a long time. Unfortunately, loneliness has become a new silent killer in society but nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge it.

Grief and Love

I really liked the line in the book “They say grief is the price we pay for love. The price is far too high she thinks” because it exemplifies someone who fears loving because of the grief it causes. It’s true that loving something makes you vulnerable when you lose it. But at the same time, that grief is also what makes you appreciate it when it is there. It’s like how sadness makes happiness feel so much better because you have a reference point. It’s like that saying “you don’t know what you truly have until it’s gone.” However, I appreciate that despite losing so much, Eleanor still maintains her hope and desire to connect. She still has a huge capacity for empathy and love. She also mentions that because she’s experienced so much grief, it gives her a weird sort of strength that allows her to overcome future challenges and setbacks.

Hope and Optimism

One thing I love about Eleanor is that despite her past and all the damage done by her mother, she still maintains so much hope and positivity. She acknowledges that she’s socially awkward, but still takes the leap of faith and puts herself out there. Given what she’s gone through, I wouldn’t blame her if she wanted to be recluse her entire life. However, her courage to connect, socialize, and make friends is inspiring. I wonder where she got that from. I imagine it was always a part of her personality, but the negative parts of her mind was implanted by her mother. I really enjoy characters like Eleanor who show us that a better future is possible if we act in courage and maintain hope.

Closing thoughts:

I really liked this book and the way the characters developed. Eleanor is such an interesting character, but I also appreciate the other people in her life who look after her like Raymond. I enjoy that while there was some romance, there wasn’t a ton, and it didn’t distract from the main story arc of Eleanor trying to navigate her life despite her mom’s influence constantly on her.

I also really appreciated how the book ended. It could have just as easily ended poorly or too cliche, but I think the ending was perfect. Eleanor, despite her past, inspires the reader that there is hope for a better tomorrow if you keep acting in courage.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

This might not be a new idea, but my biggest takeaway that I’d like to remind myself to constantly do is:

  • Act with courage, faith, and hope

I think many times, our fear holds us back from doing what we know we should do. It’s easy to get lost in our excuses and find reasons why we shouldn’t act because we want to stay in our comfort zone. However, I think Eleanor inspires us that no matter how bad things are, 1) they could have always been worse, 2) it means we’re strong enough to handle the next thing, 3) never stop hoping for and pursuing a better future.


Eleanor Oliphant discovers she is not fine, but embarks on a transformational journey to face her past and head towards a better future.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.


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