Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I gave this a four, but I could have easily given it a two at the same time – three would have been a misleading middle ground, and I had no middle ground feeling with this story. I both loved and loathed it equally. I settled with the four because no other book in memory has given me such a mixed reaction to it.
I think I’ll start by saying that a much stronger editor would have helped this a lot. The twist at the end was over-reaching, completely unnecessary, and shouldn’t have been included. Because Eleanor is then completely not fine, and despite that being a theme – this puts her in the territory of needing more help than she was getting. There were also large continuity problems with Eleanor’s quirks of character, and they would pull you out of the story because whatever had been said just didn’t quite fit with something she had mentioned before. The pace was also grating by the end – I’m not a fan of big events being alluded to for an entire novel, especially when enough information has preceeded it that we can guess what happened anyway. It was also very repetitive in trying to make the readers understand how Eleanor felt – we got it.
My main problem was that the storyline itself was ridiculous, and I felt out of character for Eleanor. It bordered on being creepy and wrong, the setup was also weird for Eleanor – she didn’t date. So, that really bugged me. I almost rolled my eyes when that part of the story progression came up, and rushed through that chapter to get back to the good stuff.
Let me be clear, there was a lot of good stuff. I literally laughed aloud to some parts, I delighted in reading so many passages, and I actually cried more than once. That’s some extreme emotions from me, and for a writer to pull all of them out, it was a great read. She kept in character the whole time – really difficult with the type of person Eleanor is. Fantastic writing skills and depth of emotion displayed.
Raymond, Sammy, Laura – all really well thought-out and amazing characters for Eleanor to meet. Raymond especially is just someone you wish you had in your life.
The theme of loneliness was deeply explored, and almost explained the macro story… not to my liking though. And it is a timely topic, one that people forget about, don’t want to talk about, and the effects of extreme loneliness are horrible. I think we’ve all known someone like Eleanor, or been the person like Eleanor – and this made me pause and consider all those scenarios, and the different way we react to people like that.
Despite being completely unexplained, Eleanor doesn’t do technology right down to a phone, or it seems like television either – although she does apparently watch some. Her descriptions of popular culture are hilarious, some of the greatest parts of the story involved her describing well-known shows or music without ever mentioning the real name. But – completely unexplained, there is no reason given for this at all. One of those other grating bits.
Finally, and completely a personal annoyance – I find it to be very lazy writing and a little self-indulgent when authors use their favourite classic to draw parallels in their own writing. An entire section used the names of Jane Eyre characters – it was her social services report, and it used Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst. Just come up with your own names!! The author then went on to say how much her character loved the novel Jane Eyre… no, the author loves that book and wants to reference herself to look like a classical reader. Where was the editor saying no to these ludicrous inclusions! The author also has said in interviews that Jane Eyre was one of her inspirations for Eleanor, this makes me feel like, even though she had read this amazing classical literature – she didn’t take in the character of Jane at all – because Jane is nothing like Eleanor. I adore Jane Eyre, and this left a really sour taste in my mouth. Eleanor is a unique and wonderful character in her own right – and an editor should have told the author that she didn’t need any comparisons in that way.
So – a lot to love, and a lot to hate. I don’t even know what genre to fit it in – but it was an excellent read, and to have brought out such fierce emotions from me, I know it was good. Easy read, would recommend to anyone due to it’s genre crossovers.
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