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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Debut Sunday Times Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner Paperback – 25 Jan 2018
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‘A truly original literary creation: funny, touching and unpredictable. Her journey out of the shadows is expertly woven and absolutely gripping’ Jojo Moyes
‘Original [and] unexpectedly funny’ SUNDAY TIMES
‘As perceptive and wise as it is funny and endearing… Warm, funny and thought-provoking’ OBSERVER
‘A narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness… Wonderful and joyful’ Jenny Colgan, GUARDIAN
‘Unforgettable, brilliant, funny and life-affirming’ Wendy Holden, DAILY MAIL
‘I adored it. Skilled, perceptive, Eleanor's world will feel familiar to you from the very first page. An outstanding debut!’ Joanna Cannon
‘Hugely original, a funny and sad tale of a survivor who tackles the challenges of emotional reconnection with grave courage. Unmissable.’ SUNDAY EXPRESS
‘A truly original voice and so good on loneliness: I sobbed and sobbed’ Cathy Rentzenbrink
‘An outstanding debut about loneliness and the power of a little kindness’ MAIL ON SUNDAY
‘So powerful – I completely loved Eleanor Oliphant’ Fiona Barton
‘An absolute joy, laugh-out-loud funny but deeply moving’ DAILY EXPRESS
‘Heartbreaking’ Bryony Gordon
‘Deft, compassionate and moving’ Paula McLain
‘Heartwrenching and wonderful’ Nina Stibbe
‘Heartbreaking and heartwarming’ STYLIST
‘Brave, smart and funny… the most refreshing and heartwarming debut I’ve read in some time’ YORKSHIRE POST
‘Moving, funny and devastating’ THE HERALD
‘Quirky, witty and absorbing’ HEAT
‘Warm and funny, moving and deeply original, Eleanor Oliphant is completely marvellous’ Gavin Extence
‘A beautiful and delicate balance between funny and heartbreaking… restores your faith in humanity’ RED
‘You’ll laugh and cry reading this fine debut’ PRIMA
‘Impeccable’ Dawn O’Porter
‘Delightful, dark and moving’ Sarah Pinborough
‘Warm, quirky and fun, with a real poignancy underneath’ Julie Cohen
‘A stunning debut! I laughed, wept and reflected’ Lucy Clarke
‘Satisfyingly quirky’ NEW YORK TIMES
From the Inside Flap
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive - but not how to live
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.
Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted - while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she's avoided all her life.
Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than... fine?
An astonishing story that powerfully depicts the loneliness of life, and the simple power of a little kindness
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We are asked to believe that an alcoholic can drink herself into complete oblivion every single weekend, but never misses a single day's work due to her alcoholism. Has the author ever met any real alcoholics?
We are asked to swallow the ludicrous idea that a grown woman of Eleanor's age and intelligence seriously believes a bit of a makeover is all it will take for her to win the lead singer of a band, (a man she has never ever spoken to) as her true love. Not even a twelve year old with crush would think this fantasy could actually become reality.
My real beef, however, is reserved for "Mummy". I was bothered all the way along by the implausible idea that this homicidal psychopath had been allowed to keep in weekly phone contact with her abused daughter from her prison cell. It simply didn't ring true. Turns out it wasn't true and Eleanor is even more of a total nut case than we ever dreamed. Not to fear, readers! Apparently all that is needed to cure a psychotic delusion of some twenty years standing is a few outreach counselling sessions. How come we have anyone in a psychiatric hospital if clinical psychosis is that easy to cure?
So, Eleanor Oliphant is empatically NOT fine. In real life she would probably have been sectioned, but clearly there is nothing remotely "real" about this book which manages to trivialize both genuine loneliness, alcoholism and severe mental illness in one fell swoop!
I would compare it to two plays which are generally thought of as masterpieces, but which I find problematic. Anthony and Cleopatra and Death of a Salesman. Both of those seem to me to get bogged down in the misery of the characters, and lose momentum and engagement. I felt the same sort of thing reading Eleanor Oliphant. To put it another way, Kermode and Mayo in their film review radio show have a long running gag about the (now) critically acclaimed film, the Shawshank Redemption, that there is an awful lot of Shawshank before you get to the redemption. This is a redemptive book, but on the other hand ..........
So, the story (unsurprisingly) is that of Eleanor Oliphant, who is an accounts clerk at a small firm. She is a withdrawn loner, seen as strange by her co-workers, and is the butt of office jokes. She lives alone and her weekends consist of television, ready meals and two bottles of vodka, seeing no-one until she returns to work on Monday. As we follow Eleanor through the detail of her daily existence we learn about the tragedy of her life. A childhood dominated by a cruel mother who seems herself to have suffered something akin to Munchausen Syndrome, a subsequent adolescence spent in care, hints of something even darker, a loss of self esteem followed by an abusive relationship in early adulthood.
It is in this portrayal of abuse, loss of confidence, leading to further abuse, and eventually stultifying loneliness that the book is at its strongest. In fact in response to all she has been through, Eleanor has become deeply embittered and her consequent inability to interact with others exacerbates her loneliness. Eleanor's situation is one that it is all too convincing.
In her despair, Eleanor has developed a singular filter through which she looks at the world. In that, I would place this alongside such books as Matt Haig's the Humans, the Rosie Project, or the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in its use of a disengaged voice to comment on society. Contrary to other reviews I have read, I would not, however, describe her as quirky. In a similar way,I find it very difficult to view this book as being in any way comic. Partially this is because I struggle to appreciate the comedy of embarrassment, and this frequently teeters along the edge of that. Mainly however, it is because Eleanor's worldview is that of a catastrophically damaged and consequently embittered person, and I just can't find any humour in that, it's just too painful. (Also a female friend tells me that a waxing scene is funnier than I, as a man can realise.)
As the story develops, we meet Raymond, who is the only chink of light in Eleanor's existence, and also catch sight of the man she hopes will be the love of her life. Raymond is an interesting feature of the book. Much has been written about the concept of the manic pixie dream girl, particularly in film. Often criticised as inherently sexist, the manic pixie dream girl is a kooky, quirky, woman who has no inner life, no purpose within the story, other than to help the staid,buttoned up hero realise that there is more to life than order and reason. Well, Raymond is a nailed on manic pixie dream boy.
The presence of Raymond highlights the other major difficulty I had with the book, the inconsistency of tone. At one level, and at its strongest, this is a book about abuse, loneliness and mental illness. It deals with those issues in what seems to be a realistic and meaningful way. But then the presence of Raymond and the way the book ends, has a much lighter tone,more akin to a fable or fairy tale. I am drawn to make a comparison with Jane Eyre. While it is both a compliment and massively unfair to compare this to one of the greatest works if literature ever written, I think it illustrates the point I am trying to make. Both are works about the redemption of a young woman who suffers an almost unimaginably difficult early life. Jane Eyre has a deeply satisfying tonal consistency. It also grips the reader from first to last. By contrast, I found the early part of this alienating, it then dived even deeper into the abyss, before final reaching redemption far too easily with too light an air.
As I have written this review, I have possibly become more sympathetic to the book, so perhaps it deserves three and a half stars.