I nearly didn’t write this review as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely fine appears to be the most well-read book on the planet at the moment, there are reviews a plenty on most corners of the internet and I wondered quite frankly what on earth I could add to the discussion?! But then I thought sod it, I loved the book and wanted to have my say as it’s a book that has really stayed with me; so much so that I haven’t picked another one up since finishing it as nothing has felt worthy enough to follow it.
So how to describe the story without giving too much away in case you’re one of the 7 people in the world who hasn’t read it?
Well, as you’d imagine it’s about Eleanor Oliphant; she’s the star of this particular tale but is definitely not a heroine in the traditional sense of the word and well not like anybody that I’ve come across really. Although clearly bright, she works in a fairly mundane role, is socially awkward and just plain odd. And she lives a very lonely, simple but structured existence that feels – when you’re experiencing it with her – like she’s not living but merely existing. She works 9-5 in her office job Monday to Friday then holes up in her house at the weekend with frozen pizza and vodka, and is entirely alone, numbing the pain and her memories with alcohol. Surviving. We find out pretty early on in the piece that she’s had a very traumatic start to her life, survived an awful incident from which she’s been physically and emotionally scarred and never recovered and her isolation is a protective layer that she has carefully constructed around herself. But then she meets Raymond who is gentle, patient and kind. We see her learn how to have a friend; to start to emerge from her brittle shell and to let people into her life and it’s just beautiful.
So, that’s the gist of the book but what did I love so much about it?
The writing first and foremost. It’s just so cleverly and beautifully written; there were so many sentences and paragraphs that I really enjoyed and which I read and re-read. I loved the short sentences and spare language. And Eleanor’s overly formal speech that is just a little off kilter; she has a Classics degree which also interestingly shapes her language, perspective, references and thoughts of beauty. And for it to be Gail Honeyman’s first novel – as a wannabee author – is so inspiring and impressive; she’s a talented writer and one to watch and I can’t wait to read what she writes next!
And I just bloody loved Eleanor as a character in all her unfiltered uniqueness! She’s funny, blunt and literal and almost bumbles though life as a child, ill-equipped to deal with a world that she’s never been a part of e.g. she has no idea about pizza delivery and the etiquette involved and contemplates inviting the delivery man in for a drink thinking it a social occasion and gives a half-drunk bottle of wine and a packet of cheese slices for a 40th birthday present.
I loved that despite the fact that the book tackles the challenging subjects of depression and abuse, it still remained overwhelmingly hopeful and that humour still managed to shine through. The scene of her getting a bikini wax was hilarious!
And I loved that the ending was realistic, finishing with her exploring her platonic friendship with Raymond and taking those first tentative steps in a relationship. It was lovely to see her rebirth and incredulity as she realises that she can love and is loved; that she’s going to survive in the world that she’s been shut away from for so long.