Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

This book has been pretty hyped up in advance of its release today, I’ve been hearing about it for months and months. But to be entirely honest, I kind of think it’s been marketed inaccurately. It’s been presented as light and fluffy, the blurb (at least the one on the proof I read) implies that it is in some way about Eleanor Oliphant getting into a romantic relationship, and skims over the fact that the protagonist is mentally ill, suffering from delusions and alcoholism and is, in general, in a really awful place in her life. This is a much, much darker book than any of the promotion I’ve seen presents it as. (That said, I’m writing this two months before the release date, so that may change as the marketing campaign ramps up.) Honestly, based on the blurb and cover (again, these are the proof versions of those things), I would never have picked it up had a friend not recommended it.

What I will say is that it is written very lightly, I think because we’re inside the head of a woman who doesn’t realise how severe her problems are, which makes it a lot easier to get through than a book about the darkest depths a mind can go to might otherwise be. It’s incredibly compelling to read. I absolutely raced through it, despite the tough subject matter, and I have to admire the skill of the writing in making it bearable to look at something so dark. I recently read Nina is Not Okay by Shappi Khorsandi, and that book was in a lot of ways very unpleasant to read, because it’s so unflinching in the way it looks at alcoholism and what people do when they are alcoholics. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a much softer examination of drinking (most of the time), and I didn’t find myself having to put it down and take breaks from it the way I did with Nina is Not Okay.

I’ve seen a lot of reviews talking about how much the reviewers loved Eleanor’s “old soul” and how they absolutely adored the character, which was really not my experience. I found the character pretty annoying and kind of unrealistic for the first two hundred odd pages. I definitely had to get past her attitude to the world to enjoy the plot. I think partly it was because I didn’t recognise quite how damaged she is – but I also think that’s the point, you only gradually realise what a mess she is. I also suspect that my feelings about the character were influenced by the way the book was presented to me – I initially assumed she was part of the trope of female characters who are bookish and disconnected from the world, which is something that I’ve always found annoying. I’m not saying she doesn’t fit into that trope, but she is a much more in-depth, intelligent look at that sort of character, and her disconnect isn’t a result of everyone else being superficial and modern and her being so much more insightful.

Overall, I was really pleasantly surprised by this book, and if you, like me, are a little snobby about certain types of book, then this is a time you should get over that snobbery and prepare for a bloody good read.

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