Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant.pngThe Premise: Eleanor is a creature of routine: she wears the same clothes every day to the same job she’s been doing since leaving university; she drinks the same vodka alone every weekend, and she speaks to her mother at the same time every Wednesday. She doesn’t engage with other people; she doesn’t quite understand other people and they definitely don’t understand her. Eleanor assumes her life will carry on in the same way forever, until inadvertently becoming involved in someone else’s life gives her a new perspective.

Thoughts: that synopsis in no way represents how wonderful and surprising this book is, but I don’t want to spoil it and so want all humans to read it, so that will have to do. I loved this book; it made me laugh more than once during the first half and made me cry in the second. Having seen Eleanor Oliphant compared to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project, I was prepared for social misunderstandings and general awkwardness; like Don in that book, Eleanor seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, although this is never actually stated. Eleanor is far more disarming than Don, however, and I felt tremendous affection for her from very early on. Her befuddlement concerning other people and the things they enjoy is mainly funny, although sometimes heartbreaking, as it reveals the depth of her isolation. Eleanor lives alone in a flat, counting a house-plant as her only friend: a situation obviously imbued with pathos, even before the other complications of Eleanor’s life are revealed.

The majority of Eleanor Oliphant sees its titular character navigating social occasions, making some bad decisions based on romantic inexperience, and exhibiting confusion about the behaviour of her colleagues. But there’s always a hint of sadness in the amusement; a funny shopping trip to obtain ‘normal’ clothes is set against her weekly trips to the local shop to buy enough vodka to see her through the weekend, and Eleanor’s isolation is palpable. Honeyman does a tremendous job of finding humour in Eleanor’s lack of social training, while also hinting at the tragedies in her past which rendered her so isolated. Eleanor’s narrative voice is hugely engaging, and her naivety gave me a developing sense of dread, as I found myself feeling protective towards her; she’s such a brilliantly realised protagonist, it’s hard to think of her as being fictional.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, because the surprises should remain exactly that, but I feel duty-bound to highlight the extraordinary shift in tone which Honeyman executes quite late on; I’m not often surprised by books, because all I do is read so there are few plot twists which can catch me off guard, but the about-turn Eleanor Oliphant takes gave me a sense of having been very abruptly and unpleasantly thrown off a rollercoaster. It’s a very discombobulating moment and one which I think Honeyman manages magnificently.

In Conclusion: obviously, I loved this book. It will be my new go-to recommendation for discerning people who seek suggestions, and I will definitely have to buy a copy of my own, having read an e-ARC in the first instance (thank you to the power of a million to HarperCollins and NetGalley, by the way). Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is gloriously written, by turns witty and disturbing, and contains more than a few twists to engage even the most hard-to-please reader. You really, really need to read this book.

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