Rebecca's Reviews > Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
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it was ok
bookshelves: other-giveaway-win, mental-health

It’s like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry all over again: everybody loves this book, but I can’t summon up much enthusiasm even though I read it quite quickly. It veers wildly between light and dark, which suggests this debut author is not in control of her tone. I also never worked out who Honeyman meant for Eleanor to be: a clueless nerd, on the autistic spectrum (she’s like a female version of Don Tillman from The Rosie Project), or just a bitch? The book is too long by 1/3+, and you’ll see the twist and the ending coming from a mile away.

The basics: “For more than nine years, I’d got up, gone to work, come home. At the weekends, I had my vodka. None of that would work now.” Eleanor Oliphant is a thirty-year-old finance clerk for a Glasgow graphic design company with scars down one side of her face from a house fire she survived as a child. Raised by foster families, she still communicates with her abusive mother even though she doesn’t want to remember her childhood. She keeps herself to herself, which is for the best given her peculiar habits and lack of basic social awareness.

There are some good points for sure:

• Eleanor is ludicrously well spoken, which leads to numerous enjoyable turns of phrase:
a social worker “checking to make sure that I’m not storing my own urine in demijohns or kidnapping magpies and sewing them into pillowcases.”

“Both Sammy and Raymond were audible masticators”

“Men … would always be distracted by women who looked like her, having neither the wit nor the sophistication to see beyond mammaries and peroxide.”

• This character undergoes a sweet transformation, starting to care for other people by helping an old man who’s fallen over and is taken to hospital, then attending his coming-home party, his son’s birthday disco, etc. Making a true friend of her colleague Raymond Gibbons, a schlubby IT guy, and visiting his mobility-impaired mother are some of the best parts of the book. Think Rachel Joyce but funnier.

• The counselling sessions are well rendered, and kudos to Honeyman for showing that people sometimes need external help to deal with mental health issues and trauma, especially when they’re as serious as Eleanor’s – though the session write-ups are also a bit tedious and cause the narrative to stall towards the end.

But here are some reasons why this book irked me unduly:

• Eleanor seems like an alien engaged in an anthropological study of earthlings (e.g. “He smiled, put down his fork and held up his hand. I realized I was meant to place mine against his in what I now recognized as a ‘high five’.”). Are we really supposed to believe that she’d never danced, or heard the Village People’s “YMCA,” or owned any computing or telecommunications devices, until age 30?! She was in foster care, not on Mars! And she downs two bottles of vodka every weekend, but has never tried cider? She had a boyfriend for two years but can’t spot flirtation or realize that she’ll never bag the singer she has a crush on? She doesn’t realize it’s not okay to give someone a half-drunk bottle of liquor as a birthday present? All in all, she’s extremely particular in most respects but then in others seems to have no idea what’s proper.

• Why does Eleanor have to become more ‘normal’ – and in such depressingly clichéd ways (having a makeover, getting a haircut, wearing trendy black clothes and high heels, going to pubs) – to gain acceptance?

• The horrible cheap laughs of a bikini wax and a death metal concert.

A few more ranty thoughts:

• Did Honeyman think this had to be in the first person to convey Eleanor’s loneliness and delusions? The third person would actually be more effective in that you’d see her like a figure in an Edward Hopper painting, from the outside.

• Whatever have Americans made of all the British-specific references here (Eleanor’s enthusiasm for Tesco, her “shopper,” her “jerkin,” Magners drink, and so on)?

• What vanity for Reese Witherspoon (who has acquired the film rights) to think she can play a 30-year-old! To what extent will she ‘uglify’ herself for this role with scars and dowdy clothing? (I can see how this will work as a cross between her Elle Woods [Legally Blonde] and Tracy Flick [Election] characters, but she’s still a bit too pretty.)

• Raymond should be played by Chris O’Dowd – as the setting will undoubtedly be moved to New York or L.A., just make him Irish and he’ll be exactly the character he was on The IT Crowd and that will be perfect.

This is a quick and reasonably entertaining read, but the more I thought about it the less it convinced me.
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Reading Progress

February 8, 2017 – Shelved
February 8, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
July 13, 2017 – Shelved as: other-giveaway-win
July 21, 2017 – Started Reading
July 27, 2017 – Shelved as: mental-health
July 27, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-31 of 31 (31 new)

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Caroline Excellent review, Rebecca. I didn't finish the book, but I felt just the same as you for the parts I did read.


Rebecca It was such a (strangely) breezy read that I never felt stalled, but when I got to the end it definitely didn't feel worth all those pages. A case of not living up to the hype.


Kevin Ansbro Love the honesty, Rebecca. Terrific review.
I was considering this as one of my reads for a forthcoming holiday (it was recommended to me), but I've noticed too many reviews where the reader has been left underwhelmed.


Gina I loved AJ Fikry but couldn't stand Don Tillman. Perhaps this is why I am not a fan of this book?


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) Yes! I agree with so much you've written! I was so annoyed about all the autistic traits that I hadn't even noticed the issues with her getting her hair done to become 'accepted'. You're so right to rant about that!!!


Rebecca Jackie (Farm Lane Books) wrote: "Yes! I agree with so much you've written! I was so annoyed about all the autistic traits that I hadn't even noticed the issues with her getting her hair done to become 'accepted'."

But you gave it 4 stars? :)


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) Yes, I really struggled to rate it. I was annoyed by a lot of it, but I was engaged throughout. I've sort of come to the conclusion that books which enrage me are doing something right - so many books just bore me!


Michelle21 Agreed with all your points


Roger Brunyate After working through all those 5-star reviews and mostly agreeing, but still having reservations, it was refreshing to come to your two stars and mostly agree, but still feel more generous. Oddly enough, I got more appreciation from the points you praise in your negative review than I did from any of the positive ones.

Too Brit a book? I don't think so. And the foreignness (for Americans) is part of its charm. But, as a former resident of Glasgow's West End, I was disappointed that the book was not more Glasgow-specific; really, it could have been set anywhere.

And when did Bulmers become Magners? Anyway, the point is that EO does not recognize the word at all, and so realize it is just cider. I didn't, and the revelation was a pleasant Aha moment. Roger.


Rebecca Roger wrote: "I was disappointed that the book was not more Glasgow-specific; really, it could have been set anywhere."

I would tend to agree -- I've been to Glasgow (just for one day) and nothing felt familiar.

Roger wrote: "And when did Bulmers become Magners?"

They coexist, as far as I'm aware, and have done for 10+ years. Magners is an extremely popular brand, such that I'd expect anyone to at least have heard of it even if they hadn't tried it. But then again, cider is my pub drink of choice!

And now Costa debut novel of the year. I struggle to understand why just about everyone has loved this book. I know what the author is aiming for -- heartwarming transformation out of terrible tragedy -- but I had too many misgivings.


Roger Brunyate Eleanor makes several journeys by underground. But anyone who has been there knows that it is a very special experience, in miniature trains that are almost impossible to stand up in if you're at all tall. Not that I expected a detailed description, but the experience is surely one that Eleanor would have had a comment about!




Rebecca Ah, neat! We didn't use that while we were there.


message 13: by Catherine (last edited Jan 09, 2018 10:41AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Catherine Gina wrote: "I loved AJ Fikry but couldn't stand Don Tillman. Perhaps this is why I am not a fan of this book?"

I loved Don Tillman, but wasn't impressed by AJ Fikry.

Great review, Rebecca!

Now I'm a bit tentative about this book, but I'll give it a try.


Rebecca Camelia Rose wrote: "Your review is more entertaining than the book itself! I mostly agree with you, especially the irking parts and Chris O’Dowd!"

Ha ha, thanks!


Rebecca Catherine wrote: "I loved Don Tillman, but wasn't impressed by AJ Fikry."

It'll be interesting to see what you think!


LeAnne: GeezerMom Outstanding review, particularly with those excerpts. I just finished and gave that first half two stars for the repeated and trite jokes about social inappropriateness. That this character would try to reinvent herself for some rock singer? Dumb. Definitely improved after the midway mark although it was a little bit too saccharine sweet at the finish.


Rebecca LeAnne wrote: "Outstanding review, particularly with those excerpts."

Thank you! I think this will make a better movie than it did a book -- somehow I'm more able to forgive saccharine stuff in rom-coms.


Janet M Rebecca, I agreed with most of your points -- ie. cheap laughs, becoming more "normal" etc etc. As for Reese Witherspoon, I think she'd be better suited playing Laura the "hottie". No idea who'd play Eleanor!


Janet M oh, maybe Emily Blunt? with plenty of uglifying makeup...


Rebecca Janet wrote: "oh, maybe Emily Blunt? with plenty of uglifying makeup..."

That's a good idea!


Lucinda I agree with everything you have expressed so much more articulately than I could. I found it compelling and amusing, but ultimately rather silly and incoherently drawn. Great review.


Lucinda I would also add to the irksome column that Eleanor is a classics graduate who professes to be very well read yet prefers to buy her books at Tesco. Is this a marketing ploy?


Rebecca Lucinda wrote: "I would also add to the irksome column that Eleanor is a classics graduate who professes to be very well read yet prefers to buy her books at Tesco. Is this a marketing ploy?"

Ha! Did Honeyman strike a deal with Tesco? :)


Catherine I just reread your review after having read the book, and I completely agree with you (although I gave the book an additional star), especially about the inconsistent tone and the weird interpretation of Eleanor's social awkwardness.
"Eleanor seems like an alien engaged in an anthropological study of earthlings." Yes! Exactly! She reminded me of Matt Haig's narrator in The Humans!


Rebecca Catherine wrote: "I just reread your review after having read the book, and I completely agree with you (although I gave the book an additional star), especially about the inconsistent tone and the weird interpretat..."

Thanks -- I'm glad my comments rang true for you.


message 26: by Fran (new) - rated it 3 stars

Fran i pictured Raymond as Chris O'Dowd throughout the whole book 😂! glad someone else did too


message 27: by Lee (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lee Osborne I have a relative who is uncannily like Eleanor, and given where she and the author both live, I have to wonder if they've actually met. I think Eleanor's odd behaviour is actually extremely accurate - my relative behaves almost identically, being extremely fastidious and perfectionist in some ways, but extraordinarily out of touch and crassly, unintentionally rude in others. We've lost count of the number of inappropriate secondhand items we've been given as well-meaning but useless gifts, and said relative is utterly clueless about modern technology, so yes, Eleanor is a very accurate portrayal. You just haven't come across anyone like her - but I have. It's possible to be sorted in some ways and drowning in chaos and ignorance in others.


Susie B You are right on with Chris O’Dowed.


message 29: by Debra (new) - added it

Debra saved me writing a review .


Tifany Omg I loved that you saw the IT Crowd rip off here too! Also I love your review couldn’t agree more
I live in Canada but I understand the UK speak only because my mom learned English in Britain and my sis lives there now...you’re absolutely right to say what does an American audience make of the language?


Rebecca Tifany wrote: "Omg I loved that you saw the IT Crowd rip off here too! Also I love your review couldn’t agree more
I live in Canada but I understand the UK speak only because my mom learned English in Britain and..."


Thanks! So interesting to hear how your family experience affected your reaction to the language. I wonder if most American readers just enjoyed reading something a little bit 'exotic' but didn't bother looking into what the vocabulary and cultural references actually meant.


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