Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by HarperCollins Australia on the 1st June 2017
Pages:
400
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Eleanor Oliphant 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 happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

I didn’t really know anything about this book going into it. I picked it up on a whim, and am so thankful I did! It is easily one of my favourite releases of the year.  Eleanor Oliphant is the kind of character who stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.

On the surface, this book is a very funny novel about a socially inept 29 year-old woman. Eleanor Oliphant truly is socially inept, in a way that puts my socially awkward self to shame. It is painful to watch Eleanor interact with those around her, if only because of the resulting scorn and her absolute cluelessness to it.

“I purchased it in a charity shop some years ago, and it has a photograph of a moon-faced man. He is wearing a brown leather blouson. Along the top, in strange yellow font, it says ‘Top Gear’. I don’t profess to understand this mug. It holds the perfect amount of vodka, however, thereby obviating the need for frequent refills.”

Honeyman deftly handles the difficult task of making sure that the reader is never laughing at Eleanor’s social ineptness itself, but the situations that she finds herself because of it. One of my favourite moments was Eleanor getting a bikini wax and then berating the poor beautician because Eleanor didn’t realise just how much was going to be waxed (or how painful it would be). I truly felt for Eleanor – whether it was overhearing her work colleagues speculating on her private life, watching her fall in love with the idea of a person, or her dealing with those moments with Mummy. Her relationship with her mother is really one of the most interesting parts of the book – the dynamics of the relationship are off from the start (I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so won’t go into much detail), but you really get the feeling that it is an emotionally and mentally abusive relationship, with Mummy holding all the power.

I think anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will identify with Eleanor. Eleanor may do some reprehensible things, she may (unintentionally) make others feel uncomfortable, but she is never an unsympathetic character. Even as she grows throughout the novel, her characterisation is always consistent. While this book is definitely Eleanor’s story, there are are a host of other characters who are wonderfully drawn, and just feel like people. The fantastic characterisation is really what drew me into this story.

I took a star off for the ending – I felt like it really came out of nowhere and was kind of a plot twist for the sake of a plot twist. However, this is a really assured debut novel, and I cannot wait to see what Honeyman does next.

Recommended if you like: The Rosie Project, Wonder

★☆

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