Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This one has languished on my to-read list for too long, so I was thrilled when the library had a copy available. I can see why this debut novel received so much attention, and why it is soon to be a motion picture.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This one languished on my to-read list for too long, so I was thrilled when the library had a copy available.

Cover Description

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.


“Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.


“But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.”

Character

Eleanor Oliphant is a social sore thumb reminiscent of Ove in one of my favorite novels, A Man Called Ove. Honeyman brings her protagonist’s voice to life vividly, and she doesn’t shy away from poking fun at the conventions we consider “normal.” Spending time with Eleanor and her new misfit friends is delightful, a refreshing look at friendship.

Eleanor’s backstory is much darker than the description implies, but it adds to Eleanor’s humanity and leaves her with plenty of room to grow.

Plot

The plot follows Eleanor as she becomes infatuated with a musician she’s never met and tries to change herself so he will fall in love with her. Along the way, she and Raymond save an elderly man’s life, and Eleanor finds herself straddling two new worlds: the musician’s—which she longs to enter—and Raymond’s, into which she is thrust unawares. Having spent most of her life lonely, the choice is overwhelming. Along the way, she learns about herself, her past, and her capacity for friendship.

Overall, the plot moves at a glacial pace with the author sprinkling tidbits of Eleanor’s backstory throughout mundane scenes—most often, a lunch date. If you are the type of reader who needs quick-paced action sequences, this book is not for you, but I enjoyed Eleanor’s lengthy descriptions of her surroundings and circumstances. The joy of reading this story is being immersed in Eleanor’s unique perspective.

Writing Style

Honeyman’s great strength is capturing Eleanor’s quirks on the page and immersing the reader in her perspective. The prose overflowed with details and sophisticated vocabulary, and was a little superior in tone, just like Eleanor. The description is so thorough that I didn’t care about the plot. I just enjoyed experiencing the world through Eleanor’s eyes.

Theme

In contemporary fiction, I enjoy books with strong themes, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine did not disappoint. Themes of loneliness, friendship, and healing from past trauma permeated the prose. I like that the author thought to include these struggles in a relatively young protagonist—Eleanor is only thirty—and that none of her coworkers suspected. We often think of the elderly when we discuss loneliness, but even in the age of social media—and sometimes because of it—young people also experience a dearth of human contact and affection. Eleanor’s story shines a non-judgmental light on mental illness and provides a hopeful portrayal of treatment.

Conclusion

I can see why this debut novel received so much attention, and why it is soon to be a motion picture. Eleanor’s quirky personality colliding with Raymond’s gentle nature provides everything necessary for an entertaining story. Their unconventional friendship demonstrates the power of simple kindness and gives hope for a world in which loneliness is a bigger problem than ever.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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No review needed. A Man Called Ove is one of my all-time favorite books.

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Book Review: Wintergirls

I advise you to tie a rope around your waist before diving into this book, because after swimming in the darkness, you’ll need a lifeline to pull yourself back to the surface.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderso

“Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in fragile bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the thinnest. But then Cassie suffers the ultimate loss—her life—and Lia is left behind, haunted by her friend’s memory and feeling guilty for not being able to help save her.”–Back Cover Description

Character and Plot

From page one, Lia is deep into mental illness and anorexia. The author shows us her world through her hallucinating eyes: a broken family that tries and fails to understand her; a friend she should have helped who now haunts her; classmates who speak meaningless words; other wintergirls who encourage her to “stay strong.” Despite Lia’s distorted view of herself, she shows her sweet personality with her stepsister, Emma. This relationship provides the single thread of hope that runs through the novel.

The plot reminds me of Dexter and Breaking Bad based on its disturbing spiral from Lia’s memories of being “a real girl” into her reality of a “wintergirl.” You watch Lia do horrible things to herself, and though in your head you scream at her to stop, you can’t tear your eyes off the page as you witness it happen.

Writing Style

If Tim Burton had written Alice and Wonderland, it might have looked something like this book. This is the second book I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson, and once again her writing leaves me gaping in awe. Her descriptions are as beautiful as they are haunting. Her tweaks of style serve a purpose. Running words together, crossing words out, filling entire pages with the same words, and leaving pages empty tell the story with the visual of the words themselves in addition concepts they represent.

Other

At first, I didn’t like the cover, but after finishing the book, I agree with it. I don’t believe the description on the back cover does justice to the potency of the narrative.

Conclusion

This book is not for readers who like long walks on the beach, but the right type would binge read it. Through the lens of its pages is an unflinching look into a sick mind and a grieving heart.

I’ll be honest, this book was too intense for me. It forced me back to a place I’d thought I’d left behind. Halfway through the book, I knew I should never have picked it up, but by then, I needed to reach the end. I needed the hope of a happy ending.

The right reader wouldn’t regret shelling out their precious pennies for a hardcover copy. I’m glad I can return mine to the library, lest it haunt me from my bookshelf.

I advise you to tie a rope around your waist before diving into this book, because after swimming in the darkness, you’ll need a lifeline to pull yourself back to the surface.

Read with caution.


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Wintergirls

If this interests you, you may also like The Impossible Knife of Memory and Speak (Reviews Pending)


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