A stunning debut about a girl who has learned how to survive – but not how to live.
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is fine. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except sometimes, everything.
No-one’s ever told Eleanor life should be better than fine. But with a simple act of kindness she’s about to realise exactly how much better than fine life can be.
Published 18th May 2017 by Harper Fiction (UK)
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was one of those books which, pre-publication, gained a lot of attention and praise. I’d actually picked this up from Amazon Vine before I’d heard anyone else talking about it, then became very excited as I read all the hype. I’m going to come right out and say it – It didn’t quite live up to it for me. That’s not to say I hated it, there were parts I thought were absolutely fantastic. But I do have mixed feelings about it. It took me a while to get into. In fairness, I was pretty exhausted and wasn’t having the best of weeks – feeling pretty restless and prickly myself. I put it down to that, because then I did really begin to enjoy it.
I found it difficult to connect with Eleanor to begin with, despite my love of a quirky character I just didn’t warm to her. In fact, at one point I felt a bit annoyed, in a scene involving a bikini wax, as I felt the character was actually being ridiculed. It was, I guess, supposed to be a humorous scene, but it didn’t make me laugh. It just didn’t ring true to me. Eleanor clearly has severe social difficulties, yet I felt her traits were so stereotypical and contrived, she became almost a caricature in the first few chapters of this book.
As I read on though I became absorbed in Eleanor’s metamorphosis, and did find myself charmed by her. I particularly enjoyed her unfurling friendship with Raymond, who takes Eleanor under his wing after a shared experience brings them together. This is such a genuinely, innocent and touching friendship and I loved the subtle little moments scattered throughout which depict Eleanor’s emerging feelings of friendship and connection to him beautifully. I also really loved seeing her growing confidence, and when it all came crashing down around her, I felt heart broken and devastated for her. There’s some shocking and difficult scenes later on in the book which I thought were written superbly, with brutal honesty and raw emotion.
Eleanor is a character who grew on me slowly, and I felt it was in the second part of this book I really became to understand her. It’s made clear from the start that she’s suffered a traumatic and abusive past, although a mystery surrounds just what exactly did happen to her for much of the book. However, Gail Honeyman doesn’t go for the bombshell approach to revealing Eleanor’s secrets, and I really liked that as it suited the story and the character well. Rather, through little snippets, we learn what happened as Eleanor is ready to slowly share and there’s an authenticity here which I did really appreciate. By the end of the book, I’d become totally invested in this character’s life and hoped that she would be completely fine after all. I’d actually love to read a follow on and see what life does in fact have in store for Eleanor.
So, there, for me this was a book of two parts. the first I found difficult to connect with and felt unease at how this character was being depicted. I was pleased to find that as the book evolved, Eleanor became more rounded and complex and believable, and less of a caricature. Ignoring the awkward bikini wax scene, Gail Honeyman does manage to inject some dark humour along with more lighthearted moments successfully. However, it’s Honeyman’s engaging writing and the increasing understanding, connection and development of Eleanor which made the second half of this book truly stand out and redeem itself for me. While I wasn’t as blown away as other readers. I did feel by the end it was a book worth reading and would recommend to others, with a warning to stick with it if you feel as I did.
(I read an advance proof copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program)