Gail Honeyman’s charmingly off-beat debut novel about a lonely Glaswegian woman has been a fixture of bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic since its release in 2017. Rightfully so: the story Eleanor’s solitary life – and how it is transformed after she helps a stranger in distress, is heart-rending and heart-warming in equal measure. Find below five books we feel to be like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine in some way, which we think you may also enjoy.
Before Elizabeth Gilbert became known as the tell-all, turn-your-life-around memoirist behind Eat, Pray, Love, she was a highly acclaimed short story writer. Whether you love or hate the book that made her name, you’re missing out if you haven’t read her fiction. (Dip your toe in first, with the fine short story ‘The Finest Wife’.) The Signature of All Things is a glorious, sweeping novel about a (clever, tricky, Eleanor-esque) female botanist during the time of Darwin, working on a rival theory of evolution. Alma Whittaker has big bones, plenty of money and a spirit that won’t be broken. But she’ll break your heart.
This surprise bestseller from the British writer Rachel Joyce – then a debut author – is a delightful, gently ambling adventure story that follows the titular Harold as he leaves his comfortable retirement home on foot with nothing but the clothes on his back after receiving a letter from the hospice bed of his old friend Queenie Hennessey. Simple yet profound, this is another book that – like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – will put you through the emotional ringer, but ultimately reaffirm your belief in the essential goodness of people.
Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel-in-stories offers a detailed portrait of the title character: a somewhat difficult and abrasive former schoolteacher in smalltown Maine who keeps her emotions under wrap. But over the course of thirteen short stories, all set in the same community, we unpeel the layers of her and her neighbours’ lives until we find at the heart an engaging, multi-dimensional character who appears differently when viewed from any direction. Not a light-hearted read, this, but a rewarding and tightly-woven one that more than deserves your time.
Like The Signature of All Things, this stars another brilliant Victorian-era lady scientist – this time it’s amateur palaeontologist and wealthy widow Cora Seabourne, who has come to investigate reports of a sea monster in the waters off the Essex coast in the hope that it might transpire to be a living fossil. Also like The Signature of All Things and Eleanor Oliphant, there’s a starcrossed romance at the heart of this book. Strange and unsettling, this is a wonderful book full of fascinating detail, with a brilliant, headstrong woman at its heart.
If you found yourself deeply affected by the solitude and loneliness of Eleanor Oliphant, you might be interested in exploring the topic further through Olivia Laing’s erudite nonfiction book on the topic. As with Laing’s other work, The Lonely City blends memoir and art history as she examines how social dislocation inspired, motivated or made miserable four iconic artists: Edward Hopper, who epitomised urban loneliness in his famous painting ‘Nighthawks’; Andy Warhol, whose busy, aspirational lifestyle belied his deep insecurity; Henry Darger, the posthumously celebrated outsider artist; and David Wojnarowicz, the performance artist and photographer who died of complications related to Aids.
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