Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
SPOILER ALERT | this review contains some details about specific scenes within the book
This is possibly the MOST hyped book I’ve ever seen on bookstagram (excluding hyped series) so I am in the minority of people that did not love this book. In fact, I did not even like this book. I really struggled, and I came close to DNFing it several times. But, I still wanted to review it on here as I had a lot to say about it, and I think it is important to remember that you’re not always going to love a book just because everyone else loves it.
This book wasn’t what I was expecting. At all. And I think that’s why I really didn’t like it. I went in with too many expectations of how it was going to turn out, and it ended up being completely different and I would’ve preferred to have read the book I had in my head (if that makes sense!). In my head, this was going to be a hilarious novel about a chaotic young woman who is struggling through the day-to-day life of working and paying the bills and trying to maintain a social life and finding the time to date and see her family, and maybe she drinks too much and isn’t balancing everything but she’s FINE, she’s COMPLETELY FINE. I wanted lots of humour and drama and things going wrong and chaos, all the while she gradually overcomes adversity and gets the guy she’s been after. And instead, Eleanor for me is the least likeable main character I have ever encountered with the wool drawn over her eyes about the idea of ‘normal’.
But, I’m going to start with what I did like. I did think the writing style of this novel was really good, and I thought it was very well-written. If Gail Honeyman writes another book, I am definitely prepared to give her a second chance, as my perception of this book was skewed by my expectations of it. By the end of the novel, I did like Eleanor a little bit more than in the beginning, and I thought it concluded quite nicely, and there were a couple of scenes where I genuinely felt bad for her. Unfortunately, that was about all I liked, and we’re onto the several issues I had with this book.
From the outset, I found Eleanor to be a very unlikeable, stiff character with rigid principles and a strange sense of humour. I didn’t find her lack of understanding in social situations to be funny but hugely awkward and cringy. I felt the bikini wax scene was meant to be funny, but I just found it incredibly awkward. Many of her interactions with people were just odd, and I felt as though her ‘backwards’ living was inconsistent with her upbringing. For example, she never used a laptop and didn’t have a clue what any of the common jargon with regards to laptops and tablets meant, and yet she works on a computer all day in an office and attended university, where presumably people will have had laptops.
I didn’t enjoy the slow teasing throughout the novel about Eleanor’s past. It continued to hint about elements of darkness and horror but wasn’t explicit, and I would have preferred for some elements to have been revealed a little sooner. I was over the initial intrigue by the time we finally found out about her childhood. I did really like the character of her mother and the intrigue that brought, so I was really annoyed with how they ended things with her so abruptly and didn’t really provide an explanation.
I had a real issue with the portrayal of therapy and medication in this book. I really dislike the view where medication is seen as a negative because you don’t want to become ‘dependent’ on it. Eleanor draws a comparison between antidepressants and alcoholism, claiming “I insisted that I did not wish to take any tablets, at least initially. I was worried that I might start to rely on them in the same way that I’d been relying on vodka.” Self-medicating with alcohol and taking a prescribed medication for mental health problems shouldn’t, in my opinion, be seen as the same. It is completely up to the individual as to whether they want to take medication, and I am in complete support of people who wish to use other means to control their mental health, and I know for some that medication is ineffective or can make symptoms worse. However, the suggestion that medication is a dependency and is therefore inherently negative is completely unfounded. And, as this is such a popular and widely read book, I didn’t like the idea of anyone feeling guilty or upset about that comment. No one criticises the people ‘dependent’ on taking antibiotics to cure their illness, and no one yells at the guy with a broken leg for being ‘dependent’ on his crutches. All the medication does is help go some way to relieve symptoms of an illness or injury, just like any other medicine or aid. Crutches won’t stop my leg being broken, but they will help me to walk whilst it’s healing. So, if I need my crutches to walk, you can be sure I’ll be taking my sertraline to keep me on my feet.
After that little detour (could you tell that really irked me?!), my final thoughts on this book are that it wasn’t for me, and I took issue with several elements that I could not overlook enough to enjoy this book. I do know that this is a huge favourite among so many people, so I have tried to be as respectful as I can as I cannot cope myself when people criticise my favourite books! I will maintain that my lack of enjoyment with this book is entirely my own fault, as I should have gone in to it with less expectations, and the medication thing is just a real peeve of mine.
Are there any books that everyone else loves that you really didn’t enjoy? Or any books that you bought because of bookstagram hype that you ended up disliking?