The first thing I feel I should say about Eleanor Oliphant is that it’s completely different from what I expected. I went into it expecting either a) a literary fiction book about loneliness in the modern age or b) a Bridget Jones-style fake memoir of a lonely single woman. In short, I thought Eleanor Oliphant would be about the everyday woman, but in reality there’s nothing everyday about the novel. Eleanor Oliphant is, unsurprisingly, uniquely Eleanor Oliphant.
Two disclaimers: First, I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. If you haven’t read the book, though, I’d suggest you stop reading now, because Eleanor Oliphant is a book that should be read without any expectations or preconceived ideas. The second disclaimer is that my copy was actually in Italian. I’ll talk a bit about how distinctive and hilarious Eleanor’s voice is (one thing I believe the translator managed to convey very well), but of course I can’t comment on the overall style of the original novel. I talked a bit more in depth about my opinions about the Italian translation in my Instagram stories.
Here’s what I can tell you about the novel without giving too much away: Eleanor Oliphant is nearly 30 years old, has an office job, no friends and is completely fine. Except of course that is a lie. Throughout the novel Eleanor is faced with a past she still needs to come to terms with, a very confusing present and an even more uncertain future. One thing is sure: she wants to be happy. But will she?
Now, I know it seems a bit unfair, but I’d like to start with my two main critiques and then move on to my overall impression of the book. Both my main critiques lead back to the fact that I found the book a bit too artificial at times. As I said, Eleanor is far from the everyday woman, she had a traumatic past and leads a very atypical life. And although she is mainly endearing (I’ll go back to that that in the second part of this post), I also think some bits of her personality just don’t fit in. She says she’s not able nor interested in socialisation, but there’s a difference between the two that can’t be ignored. I can understand (and low-key relate to) not wanting to interact with people or conform to social norms. However, it feels a bit unlikely that Eleanor, having gone to uni and having worked in an office for 9 years, is sometimes completely oblivious to social norms – to the point of marvelling at very basic concepts like makeup or social dinners. Especially considering that she does spend a lot of time reading books and watching TV.
The second thing I found a bit artificial was the ending. Now, this bit will have spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet just jump to the cat gif down below.
In short, I thought her recovery was too straight-forward. She made some resistance at first but then as soon as she started opening up to her therapist, everything got better in the span of two months. Raymond was unbelievably sweet and supportive, her boss and colleagues were nice, and she handled everything perfectly. I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her to have a relapse, but it never happened. Granted, I love a good uplifting ending like the next former fanfiction addict, but again it did feel a bit too good to be true. Mental health can be a very delicate issue and recovery can have a lot of hiccups (at least speaking from my own experience), so it did feel a bit too convenient that Eleanor’s path towards recovery was so smooth.
These are my two minor critiques and I want to make it clear that they did not impact that much on the overall enjoyment of the novel. I found the book incredibly engrossing (I think the fact that I stayed up to finish it in 36 hours is testament of that) and a very enjoyable read. You just want to know how the story progresses and Honeyman has a way of keeping you glued to the page.
I loved the pace of the novel, and I loved how we were shown things instead of told, ensuring that the reader got to piece the puzzle back together at the same time as Eleanor. No revelation came as a surprise to me, but I still enjoyed trying to solve the mystery behind Eleanor’s past using just the few clues she dropped here and there.
More than anything, however, I loved Eleanor. As I mentioned, her voice is so unique it can be a bit off-putting at first. I have to admit it took me some pages to warm up to her. But I think it’s impossible not to end up finding Eleanor so incredibly endearing and sweet. Her dry humour – which, again, is one thing the translator managed to convey very well – had me laughing out loud more than once. I just never wanted the book to end, and after I read the last line of the novel I genuinely turned the page hoping to find more.
I’m so very happy I managed to squeeze this book into my December TBR. As always, if you want to chat about the book feel free to comment here or on Instagram!
This is M signing out for now ✨