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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman | Thoughts

Published in: 2017
Format read in: ebook
Location: UK
Rating: 4/5

Why I read it: I had certainly missed this book when it came out three years ago but when I saw it highly recommended on a couple of blogs this year, I decided to try it.

One line review: An intimate look at Eleanor Oliphant's very private life when she makes the decision to try to meet a musician who she believes is her soulmate, resulting in sometimes hilarious and sometimes sad results.

Who should read it: Assuming you still haven't read it, this book comes heavily recommended by many readers and will pull you in from the first page.

I’d spent more in these last few weeks than I usually spent in a year. Social interaction, it appeared, was surprisingly expensive...

Thoughts:

If you listen to Eleanor Oliphant's colleagues or (her very few) acquaintances, you'll think that she was weird and eccentric. In reality, she lives by a routine that rarely changes. She talks less, preferring her own company over others'. She does not socialize (unless forced into it), is a very private person, and has also made a habit of leaving on the dot at 5pm every day after work. On weekends, she does very little, other than drink (one bottle rationed through the weekend) and maybe watch some TV.

For the first time ever, Eleanor's carefully scripted life is being threatened. The cause of this is a musician that she saw at a concert (yes, she made time for this when she won free tickets that she felt compelled to use even if concerts are not her thing). This musician appeared to her to be the kind of person her mummy considers as good dating candidates. So from that day on, Eleanor takes on a new project - find a way to meet the musician (she is sure that once this meeting happens, love will just happen, it is destined).

But it's not going to be that simple for Eleanor - she is not eccentric by choice, nor is she just naive in relationships. Far from it, she has a very dark secret that one only reads about in newspapers and hopes are isolated incidents. As she makes her progress slowly in meeting the musician, she's also trying to not let her past come in the way.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine comes strongly recommended from many sources. It's not a book I would have picked from the description alone - remember my lack of preference for clueless heroine books? - and yet many bloggers I follow and trust kept suggesting this so I decided to read it. (I'm aware my description of the book also does not depart from the clueless heroine myth but saying more will spoil the book for you, so all I can say is, *you have no idea what's coming*.

Yes, there is a Boy Meets Girl element but contrary to many romance books, this is more a friendship than anything. Yes, you can read Eleanor's story as clueless heroine who needs to be rescued but she isn't stupid or helpless, instead she is socially awkward that leads to interesting and sometimes funny situations. And yes, for much of the book there is a levity in the tone that does not do the book justice (in my opinion, because this did mess up the book for me, soon on this in a moment).

I think we've all known an Eleanor in our lives - that person who mostly keeps to himself or herself, makes awkward comments in social gatherings, and is rarely seen with a friend. (I'm sure we've all been socially awkward at times but maybe not with the past that Eleanor has.) We have probably forgotten this Real-Life Eleanor since we never took the time to understand this person or provide a shoulder if they needed it. And so, at some times, when reading this book, I felt truly sad for all the people in the world who are never understood. We all live by a set of social rules and anyone not following them is branded as inept. The people around Eleanor are just as quick to judge. That is, until she meets a cast of characters (Raymond, Sam) around the same time as when she started her project to meet the musician.

I appreciated how slowly the story is revealed - Eleanor's weekly calls with mummy, the scar on her face, why she is still visited by social workers, her strange and strong beliefs about other people, the overwhelming hold mummy has on her.

The tone of the book confused me though. I couldn't decide whether the book was trying to be funny or serious. Nothing about what happens to Eleanor is funny and sometimes, I felt offended on her behalf. Because of how casual the writing felt, I often felt as if the plot wasn't going anywhere - it was just going to be an account of her life and a slow reveal of what happened years ago. 

I was also bothered by Eleanor's lack of knowledge about things around her. Yes, she doesn't socialize so there likely is a lot that she doesn't 'get'. But outright ignorance didn't feel right either. For example, she worked a desk job with a computer in an office, yet she didn't know what a desktop/laptop/tablet were. However, some pages and a few days later, she was now an expert in googling using pictures. Granted, she may just be a fast learner but if so, she should have known all this already.

By the end, I was very caught up in Eleanor's life and reasons why she does certain things. But I didn't care much for how the book narrated it. I also didn't feel that it did justice to what Eleanor goes through during the span of the book - the changes felt quick and the fall (you know that's already expected right?) just as ridiculous.


If you have read this book, what did you think of it?

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