Posted Thursday 26 April 2018
Gail Honeyman's debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – a number one Sunday Times bestseller and winner of the 2017 Costa First Novel Award – has been selected as this year's Kingston University Big Read title. Now in its fourth year, the award-winning shared reading scheme helps new students settle in to campus life by giving them the chance to read the same book before they arrive.
All new undergraduate and postgraduate students starting at Kingston University in September will receive a special edition copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine through their letterbox during the summer to help welcome them to Kingston. Copies of the novel will also be made available to current staff and students so the whole University can take part in the project.
Named Widening Participation Initiative of the Year by the Times Higher Education in 2017, the Big Read aims to create a sense of community through shared reading among staff, students and the wider Kingston borough, by providing a common topic to talk about. A number of events, including a meet and greet with the author, are held to invite the University community and local residents to engage with the book.
Seeing off competition from around 100 titles and chosen from a final shortlist of six, Gail Honeyman's debut novel is written from the perspective of protagonist Eleanor Oliphant and touches upon themes of loneliness, friendship and the important and transformative effect that small acts of kindness can have.
Ms Honeyman said she was thrilled to learn her debut novel had been chosen as this year's KU Big Read title. "I'm absolutely delighted that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has been selected – especially since one the key themes in the book is the importance of community and of making meaningful connections. I really hope staff and students enjoy reading it. The Big Read is a wonderful initiative and I'm very proud to be involved."
Although dealing with profound issues, the book is both life-affirming and full of humour – and emerged as a firm favourite with the panel. MA Creative Writing student and Big Read selection panellist Giulia Claudi commented: "Due to the high quality of the shortlisted books, I thought the choice was going to be very difficult. But it soon became clear that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was the best candidate for the next KU Big Read. The issues of loneliness and depression are dealt with delicacy and humour, and we loved the book's positive message: life can change with a simple act of kindness."
Inspired by similar shared reading schemes across the United States, Kingston University was the first higher education institution to initiate a Big Read project on such a scale in the United Kingdom. The scheme has now been rolled out to other universities both in the United Kingdom and further afield in collaboration with Kingston University, including Edinburgh Napier, the University of Wolverhampton, the University of North Florida in the United States and Malmo University in Sweden.
Kingston University's Big Read Director, Associate Professor Alison Baverstock, said selecting a novel with themes that would resonate for staff and students alike was crucial to the success of the annual project. "We want a book that will make our new students feel welcome, and provide common ground for conversations when they reach us, enabling them to settle in quickly and feel at home. We know from feedback that it gets widely discussed – at home and with their friends – in the run up to their arrival here. We are confident we have made a great choice with this year's novel and look forward to hearing what staff and student think of it."
The scheme has received consistently positive feedback from across the University, with research undertaken by the Big Read team finding that 86 per cent of students and 74 per cent of staff felt the initiative was helpful for new students. Those who received the book during the summer before they started at said they enjoyed receiving a 'present' before arrival, whicht made them feel welcomed and already part of a community before arriving on campus, while others told of how they had felt excited about arriving and discussing the book with others.
Even the process of selecting this year's winning title had brought together staff and students whose paths may otherwise not have crossed, said Daisy Du Toit, Student Officer for the University's Knights Park campus and a member of the selection committee. "I was really pleased that the student voice was at the heart of choosing this year's book and it was so exciting to see so many people from across the University taking part and having strong opinions. We all felt safe to disagree and safe to feel passionate about the selection of books. When we voted there was a real feeling of shared joy and camaraderie in the room."
Previous Kingston University Big Read choices include My Name if Leon by Kit de Waal, About a Boy by Nick Hornby and The Humans by Matt Haig.