Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 Source: Personal copy

Five words from the blurb: change, courage, darkness, kindness, life

Eleanor Oliphant seems to be the most talked about book on Twitter this year, so I bought a copy in order to join in the conversation. I can see why everyone wants to talk about it, but I’m afraid I didn’t fall in love with Eleanor as much as everyone else seems to have done.

Eleanor Oliphant is a grumpy recluse who never sees anyone socially and reacts angrily to the ordinary suggestions of those she encounters. I initially hated reading about her life – I found it uncomfortable to read about such an antagonistic person. As the book progressed I was gripped by the story but became increasingly unconvinced by Eleanor’s behaviour – and that of those around her. Many of Eleanor’s behaviours were autistic traits, but these were muddled with ones from a wide range of different conditions/situations. Many readers talk of the humour in this book but, unlike The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, I failed to find anything amusing. Perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter?

But, by careful observation from the sidelines, I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, or do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo. It was safer that way. Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.

Throughout the book, Eleanor slowly warms as she accepts her childhood problems and begins to engage with those around her. The ease with which Eleanor changed her lifestyle didn’t ring true and I found many scenes unconvincing. The way others welcomed her back into their lives after years of rudeness also seemed unrealistic. It’s a lovely story, but I’m afraid real life isn’t like that.

On a more positive note, the writing in this book is very good – it flows effortlessly but frequently contains beautiful, insightful thoughts. I suspect this will be a strong contender for many book prizes this year.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an engaging book and is a perfect book club choice, but the reader must be able to suspend their disbelief and cope with reading about one of the most obnoxious characters in literature. I found rating it really difficult, but although I wasn’t convinced by much of it, I will remember Eleanor for a long time to come – and isn’t that the sign of a good book?

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6 Comments

  1. I struggled with this one as well. I also found Eleanor unbelievable, and felt that her ability to engage with others and read social cues tended to get better or worse depending on what the author needed her to do or say in a specific scene. It’s a shame, as I like the idea of a female character like this, but she never became real to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Laura, Yes, I agree! I like books that show autistic characteristics, but I hate it when they imply they are something that can be easily changed – or disappear entirely just to suit a particular scene. It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one who picked up on this issue.

  2. Diane D says:

    I really loved the audio version of this one! Glad you liked it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I read the print version so it’s good to know I can recommend the audio if people ask. Thanks!

  3. I guess there must be something to it, if it brought you from hating parts of it to just finding some aspects unbelievable. The way you’ve described reading it reminds me of my experience finally getting to The Rosie Project, which it sounds like you enjoyed a little more than I did, and that doesn’t really leave me wanting to rush towards this one either; I wanted to love that one, but felt too many parts of it were just too “neat”, too “Big Bang Theory” to allow me to fall in love with it. Fortunately there are lots of other books waiting in the wings to seduce us. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Buried In Print, Yes, I loved The Rosie Project. The plot of Rosie was a little weird, but the personalities were so believable that I could accept the strange journey they went on. With Eleanor both the plot and the characters were off. I’m glad I read it, but as you say, there are so many books out there!

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