Kristin Boldon's Reviews > Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
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it was ok
bookshelves: 2020, borrowed

I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with most people about this book. It starts well, and with promise. We have a voice-y main character, Eleanor, who quickly establishes herself both as that weird person in the office that most people hate (think, Dwight Schrute on The Office), but so lonely and weird and with a secret and an abusive mother, so the reader sympathizes, and grows to like her, even while we would be utterly exasperated with her as an actual co-worker.

Eleanor is put in a series of scenes meant to highlight these characteristics. Some of these work well, most of them with Eleanor interacting with other characters, others for me fell flat and strained credulity, like the scenes with the bikini wax and manicure. It's a hard balance, having Eleanor be a socially inept outsider, but still have a basic knowledge of life on Earth, and it doesn't always come off. At their best, the scenes are both funny and sad. At worst, they are awkward and a bit mean spirited.

All along, bits of the secret of Eleanor's past are dribbled out like breadcrumbs on a path, and they are tantalizing. The problem is I found the secrets easy to guess, and not credible in the end. So withholding the information to the end made me cast a grim eye over the entirety of the book. If the ending and its revelations worked for you, then you're going to have a better experience.

SPOILERS FROM HERE:

The plot is paint by numbers easy: Eleanor has a crush, Eleanor's crush ends in disaster, Eleanor is helped by friends, gets an inner and outer makeover, and finishes the book by confronting her secret, and with a new love interest. To the book's credit, the middle crisis is way darker and serious than I might have expected, and I appreciated both its drama, and that it took the last third of the book to resolve, rather than wrapping things up quickly and simplistically. Still, things did feel overly trite for me in the resolution, even though it did not happen in an instant.

It's the last third of the book, with the cliched makeovers and relationship with a therapist who "helps" her confront her demons, that lost me. I wonder what a therapist who read this book would think, because I was as cringing and horrified as Eleanor at the therapist who pushed her traumatized patient to confront trauma and then ended sessions and booted her out on the street. This felt very much like fictional therapist and fictional trauma, because it was handled so glibly. And it spoils the effect of the happy ending, because it doesn't feel earned.

About the reveal of the secrets. That there was a sibling was obvious to me from the get go. To go from wondering if the mother is in a mental institution or prison throughout, to finding out she was a figment of the imagination (it was just a dream?) was disappointing. Boring, even.

Speaking of boring, to have Raymond date the perfectly nice Laura, break up with her in a few sentences, and finish the book as the seeming potential love interest of Eleanor's? All this did not ring true, and merely highlighted how other than Eleanor, none of the other characters have more than two dimensions. Raymond is the overweight nice guy who smokes. Is there much to his character beyond this?

If this book had been well executed, with more dimensional characters, less emphasis on the secrets, and less cliche in Eleanor's transformation, it would have been a solid, fun read.

As is, I feel like the hype machine got hold of it, elevated a mostly conventional character study/romance to bestseller status, and that's part of why I am so disappointed in this book. You can do better, Penguin editing team. There were things that could have been tightened and improved. I can see why people like it, but the faults, to me, are too glaring for me to recommend it.

A book I liked better that had trauma, mystery, fire, Austen and Bronte nods was Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. And an author who does a good job of having a well rounded cast of characters intereacting over a complex plot is Kate Atkinson. I was reminded of her debut, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and her Jackson Brodie series.
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Reading Progress

January 16, 2020 – Started Reading
January 16, 2020 – Shelved
January 16, 2020 – Shelved as: borrowed
January 16, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020
January 17, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Heidi I'm going to disagree with you about the character development, including Raymond. I really appreciate how Honeyman focused on Eleanor and Raymond's friendship throughout and didn't rush them into a relationship. The scenes with Eleanor's navigation of feminine fashion and beauty tropes were sharply observered and hilarious. (Why *do* we do these things?!?) The slow reveal of the nature of Eleanor's trauma was refreshing as well in an age of exploiting childhood trauma for shock value so frequently encountered in fiction. Regarding the "reveal" about mummy my experience was directly opposite to yours: I questioned mummy's reality from the get go and considered Eleanor's "sibling" as a possible displacement of her own personality. I'm also really surprised you've said nothing about Eleanor's alcoholism, bottoming out, and recovery which was a thoroughly harrowing aspect of the narrative for me. Do agree with you though about the blunt therapist. Then again, we're viewing that relationship from Eleanor's perspective, and you have to acknowledge she's really withholding in those sessions, especially at first. Still a four star read for me.


Kristin Boldon Eleanor didn't bottom out and recover from alcoholism, she tries to drink herself to death and then went cold turkey. Her alcoholism was a self medication for PTSD, so the alcoholism not being addressed didnt bother me, yet now that you mention it, the non drinking was like flipping a switch, and most people have a much tougher time of it. The bottom was harrowing, yes, but the recovery was tidy; this fits with my dissatisfaction of the ending. I did like how Raymond and Eleanor's friendship was grown slowly. I didnt like how he ended up in the slot of love interest. I thought some of the feminine stuff was funny, but Eleanor succumbing to societal expectations without critique was disappointing. "People like me better w makeup" should not go unquestioned. (Says this woman who gave up makeup years ago.)


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