Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

By Soyeenka Mishra

“As if a silver in the egg-and-spoon race was some sort of compensation for not understanding how to use an apostrophe.”

Eleanor on students showing off their badges on the day following Sports Day

I have lots to say about this book, though my feelings are mixed. It is a widely-popular book with many, many loving readers, except unfortunately I don’t think I’d be counted under the same. We shall start from the beginning. The bright yellow cover reminded me of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. That is a completely unrelated fact in no way relevant to the book of discussion today but since I’ve included it here, you can’t really do anything about it now, can you?

This is the first time perhaps I’ve taken so long to finish a book while having the time to do so in a day. It took me almost an entire week, a few hours of reading squeezed into my schedule of doing nothing at the end of the day. The plot has been densely mysterious from the start, but it was taking an awfully long time to unfold. I’ll admit I was ready to call it quits at 25%, but I trudged on only because of the fact that I hate DNFing books from the very bottom of my heart. Things started looking up a bit at around 40% so I quickened my pace and finished the rest of it in a day.

Eleanor Oliphant, who wasn’t, in fact, completely fine (I know, right? Took me by utter surprise as well), initially came off as a very snobby and posh woman who looked down upon people. My very first impression of her was, “OMG, she’s the Karen of Karens!” Eleanor is quite prejudiced throughout the book (but she does make an active effort to do something about it towards the latter half) and is quite a knowledgeable gal, with a gigantic stash of heavy words that she’s generously used. It had me reaching for my dictionary every couple of pages, and therefore the book gets brownie points for that alone!

She was just a little girl at heart who’d been forced to grow too quickly, and even at the age of thirty, she hadn’t experienced half the joys of life people half her age have felt long since. It was a very sad (or rather, pitiful) time, going through the parts where she formed a crush on a celebrity and stalked him and made up all these phantasms in her head about the rest of their happily ever after. It shocked her not quite kindly when she realised how silly she’d been and she spiralled down the dark void of depression soon after.

I liked the way the author has portrayed Eleanor’s depression. While there have been many variants and unique experiences of it published widely, I hadn’t read such a… physical description of it anywhere before, for lack of a better word. Sure, I’ve read vivid depictions of the debilitating emotional instability it can cause and the numbness, but our Eleanor here isn’t one who talks about feelings, or thinks even, for that matter. So it was just external things and what she wanted to do and didn’t that did the job of conveying the message, not how she felt.

She had a very dark past, one she bore victory scars for. She had not dealt with the loss of her wee sister (I absolutely loved the Scottish dialects peppered throughout) for like twenty years, and survived till that age while isolating herself from any emotional contact with humans, all the while festering in a truckload of survivor’s guilt. She also kept in touch with her ‘Mummy’, the dear ole parent, who is the one responsible for all the trauma the former has in the first place, just because she had no one else to talk to. Going through those parts were so frustrating, it’s a surprise I didn’t blow the top of my head off, knowing just how bad an influence her mother was being on her.

But the negative things aside, I really liked Eleanor’s way of speaking, her way of viewing life. She didn’t understand the logic behind the senseless social norms, and spoke her mind (often in a way I perceived as funny). She enjoyed a good book and loved her cat (I totally love Raymond for getting her a cat, a black one at that!). While the snob inside her was only her witch of a mother’s voice, I liked who she was as a person. She had a very particular way for everything, and some might even describe her as eccentric. Nevertheless, you will eventually warm up to her at the end. If her personality doesn’t get to you, the puns definitely will!

In this book, the male love interest isn’t physically flawless and desirable at first glance, which is something I haven’t read of in many books (something that needs rectification ASAP), so that was a nice change. Raymond Gibbons made himself likeable to the readers with the help of his personality alone, which is a commendable feat. Like Eleanor, there are some habits of him that are not improbably undesirable and noxious, but he’s a great dude at heart, which is all what matters at the end.

This book had some very ‘real-life’ problems that were dealt very logically (not the whole my-lover-cured-my-depression horseshit) and tactically. Eleanor’s journey in therapy was a fruitful one and I’m proud of all the way she has come. I like the way Marie Temple dealt with her issues and helped her deal with the demons of her past. All that being said, there’s the problem of relating to the character, which I didn’t. I mean, for me, this time it wasn’t me putting myself in her shoes and living her life; it was just me reading her story, the story of Eleanor Oliphant. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t a feelingsy person, but I wasn’t completely absorbed in the book. I didn’t feel very… connected, if you will. It took me a painstakingly long time to make it till the end just because I wasn’t engrossed in the story enough. All in all, I’ll say it’s definitely a nice book with good writing, but I wouldn’t be picking it up for a re-read any time soon; as I say, I didn’t vibe with it.

Image Courtesy: Soyeenka Mishra

Location: Bhubaneswar, India

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