Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This book is the one that I’ve been desperate to read for the past year; usually I’m not one to be tempted by any book that is insanely hyped up or on Bestsellers lists. However, there was something about this book that genuinely piqued my interest. Eleanor is a woman who is fairly unremarkable, on the offset. She is plain, has a stable job and lives alone. But there is so much more to her; she has a troubled past, with scars from burns all over one side of her body. She struggles with socialising, even with colleagues that she has known for a long time; she has a difficult relationship with alcohol, and with her mother. Despite these things, Eleanor isn’t unhappy; she actually likes her life, her routine of surviving the working week and then spending the weekend with vodka and pizza seems to be satisfying enough for her. Not only is she lonely, but she is determinedly so, doing all she can to avoid any form of contact with others and only getting phone calls from her mother, who is often verbally abusive towards her. Fortunately, they onyl communicate via phone calls so there is no opportunity for physical abuse as far as the reader can tell. However the relationship between them is so uncomfortable to read, but at the same time such a necessary part of understanding Eleanor and why she struggles with life in general as many look to their mothers for guidance.

Eleanor is a beautiful narrator; everything about her and her mind is so different that everything about the world is seen through her eyes and perspective. The only way to describe her is unique; she has very particular habits and ideas, especially about how to talk, work and dress properly but ultimately she is incredibly lonely. Yes, she does actively avoid any kind of social interaction, but that’s more because she thinks that she prefers her own company rather than because she hates the outside world. Working in finance for a graphic design company, naturally her colleagues are young, extroverted and don’t make much effort with her, either. To begin with, this story begins rather slowly as Honeyman needs to establish who Eleanor is before any action can take place; that’s not a bad thing, but it does make you wonder where on earth the story could be headed. There are a few things that start the change of Eleanor’s life: her office computer brakes, meaning that she meets Raymond; Eleanor and Raymond help an older man who collapses into the road and Eleanor watching a concert where she falls in love. What makes this story so clearly about love, is just how much Eleanor desires love without even realising; without actively looking for love she believes that she has found the ‘one’ and does what all sensible people do and get a makeover. Hair, nails, wardrobe and even a bikini wax! Her reactions to each of these things are hilarious and honestly, her character grows on you very quickly.

There are so many topics covered with delicacy in this novel that it almost seemed like a blur; relationships, abuse, death and mental health amongst many others. One of things that hit me the most about this book what the truth in the fact that everyone has good and bad days; however with the help of your friends you can always pick yourself up. Eleanor definitely has a reliance on alcohol, but all of her issues are ultimately connected to her past; her scars (both physical and mental) and her difficulties stemming from various care homes and foster carers. This is the kind of book that manages to get under your skin without your realisation; one minute you’re thinking this woman is strange and then the next you’re genuinely concerned about her, if she’s coping properly, if she needs some extra support at all. The amazing thing about this novel is that the plot is character led, yet you can imagine Eleanor as though she’s somebody you actually know; the bond between reader and narrator becomes unbelievably strong. Eleanor is a strong character and ultimately she ends up with a good job, good friends and good frame of mind after almost thirty years of heartache. There was not a traditional happy ending, but a realistic one; she is an extraordinary woman who enjoys a simple life and has found herself to be a survivor regardless of the odds.

Overall, I loved this book; yes, it was a slow beginning but oh my gosh it was such a good read. It was an unusual read about an unusual woman, who by her own description, wasn’t particularly beautiful, funny or clever yet she quickly grabbed my heart. There’s definitely a bit of Eleanor in all of us; unintentionally outspoken, insecure and strong. I loved Honeyman’s depiction of a lost soul; one who desperately needed some kind of support, some friends who could replace her lack of family. By the end of the novel, I assumed that I had guessed everything and I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong - some of the best books are those that surprise you and this one did that. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, or feel so much for Eleanor, Raymond and Sammy, each of whom had something that made them unique, a good friend even though they each had their own problems. I doubt I’ll read a book like this for a long time, but it’s one that I’m sure will stick in my mind; I’d love to know what happens next. This was an easy 5 stars for me, the issues that plagued this book were slowly unravelled with delicacy and ultimately the whole story just felt so inexplicably real that it was impossible not to get a little teary at times! I definitely recommend reading this, particularly if you’re a fan of books that don’t have a simple answer to every one of life’s problems.

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