Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

WHY I CHOSE IT: I keep seeing ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ in bookshops and it’s won lots of awards. Although I want to ensure I’m reading diverse books, not just popular ones, I was attracted by its subject matter and, to be honest, its bright yellow cover.

THE PLOT: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ is a contemporary novel about loneliness and grief. The protagonist, Eleanor Oliphant (duh!), is a thirty-year old woman living in Glasgow, but she fails to connect with people around her. Although she has a stable job, she doesn’t have any friends and her relationship with her family is reduced to a weekly call with Mummy. Eleanor relies on vodka to get her through the weekends until she makes an unlikely new friend. It’s a character driven novel, which focusses on Eleanor’s development as she addresses her past trauma and begins to truly live.

MY RATING: I really enjoyed this book and raced through the first half. The pacing and sense of tension was good, as the reader continually worries about Eleanor’s past, including her relationship with her mother. I particularly liked how the author took her time before mentioning the scar on Eleanor’s face, which added a new depth of mystery and kept me hooked. The short chapters also kept driving me to read on, although I felt they were a little contrived and abrupt in places because some chapter breaks felt like a continuation of the same scene.

The characterization was spot-on, and I loved the use of obscure and overly-formal language to demonstrate Eleanor’s awkwardness. The minor characters were also very well developed, with clear motivations that conflicted and converged with Eleanor’s aims. I loved the little details about Ray, Sammy and Laura, which made them realistic yet sympathetic. The use of Eleanor’s work colleagues and “office politics” to demonstrate her isolation was also very effective.

However, it only receives four stars because I felt that there was no pay-off to the buildup. After becoming immersed in Eleanor’s character, I wanted the novel to end with a bang, but instead it felt like a whimper. I don’t always want a full resolution in a novel, for example there was a nice level of ambiguity introduced in a report from Eleanor’s foster parents, which is never fully explained. Nevertheless, I managed to guess the two main twists fairly easily, so there was no triumphant or shocking moment at the end.

All in all, it’s a very engaging and successful novel. The author, Gail Honeyman, won a number of awards for this debut and she’s certainly one to watch out for – I’ll definitely read her other work.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “Thank you for making me shiny.” P.177 (Yes, I cried at this bit!)