Am I the Only One Who Didn’t Love Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?

July 20, 2017 Fiction 57

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanFiction – Debut
Released May 9, 2017
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it…if you like heart-warming stories with tidy endings. Otherwise, Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (published by Pamela Dorman Books)

Headline

I liked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine alright, but I’m not on the bandwagon with the level of hype it’s getting.

Plot Summary

Quirky and broken Eleanor Oliphant is living a solitary life when she strikes up a friendship with Raymond, the IT guy at her office, which opens her eyes to a different way of living.

Why I Read It

This book has been getting tons of buzz and two book bloggers whose taste I generally agree with recently loved it (Susie at Novel Visits and Tara at Running N Reading).

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets, Friendship, Redemption

What I Liked

  • I loved Eleanor…and I suspect she is why this book is getting such high praise from some. She’s quirky, solitary, and doesn’t fit in well with the world, but she makes no bones about who she is and is completely endearing. And, with her tragic childhood, I was rooting for her to figure out how to actually participate in the world rather than just skim the surface of life.
  • I was super curious about Eleanor’s past. How did she get her scars? How did she end up in foster care? What happened with her mother? What was the big incident that blew up her life? These questions kept me reading, but I wish the book had delved deeper into them.
  • Eleanor went on some spectacular rants about things that irked her about everyday life. They were salty and funny and I completely agreed with most of them. Here’s one:

    On wedding gifts/registries:
    Of all the compulsory financial contributions, that is the one that irks me most. Two people wander around John Lewis picking out lovely items for themselves, and then they make other people pay for them. It’s bare-faced effrontery. They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery—I mean, what are they doing at the moment: shoveling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalizing a human relationship necessitates friends, family and coworkers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.

What I Didn’t Like

  • While I can see appeal of this book for some people (it’s a heart-warming, feel-good story), it didn’t live up to the hype for me. I liked it fine, but I expected to like it much more based on the reviews and the hype. That being said, I am still recommending it for a certain type of reader (those that like heart-warming stories that are neatly tied up) because I know there are lots of this type of reader out there…it’s just not me.
  • I was so curious about Eleanor’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. Those issues were one of the main hooks that kept me reading. But, I felt like the story focused more on Eleanor’s friendship with Raymond and learning how to interact with the world again. I wish Honeyman had gone darker and delved deeper into Eleanor’s childhood and the nitty, gritty of what went down. I kept thinking it would happen, but it never really did.
  • While the story is certainly heart-warming, it felt a little cliche to me…in a bit of a rom-com way.
  • The ending was too neat and tidy. And, there was one particular element that is often used in novels that absolutely drives me crazy every time I see it. It feels like a cop out. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say anymore.

A Defining Quote

My life, I realized, had gone wrong. Very, very wrong. I wasn’t supposed to live like this. No one was supposed to live like this. The problem was that I simply didn’t know how to make it right. Mummy’s way was wrong, I knew that. But no one had ever shown me the right way to live a life, and although I’d tried my best over the years, I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.

Good for People Who Like…

Dysfunctional childhoods, heart-warming stories, neat and tidy endings, quirky characters

Other Books You May Like

Another heart-warming story about people facing an unconventional situation:
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (my review)

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57 Responses to “Am I the Only One Who Didn’t Love Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?”

  1. Susan

    No you are not the only one who ended up not liking this book. I read the blurb about the book some where online and I saw all the buzz it was getting from book bloggers so I got it from my library. I read not quite 60 pages of it when I don’t like/love a book by then I usually stop there so I did no regrets. I just wasn’t liking Eleanor, and there are way to many new good books out there to read to keep reading something your not enjoying.
    I did read all of “This is How It Always Is” because it had a different plot. The book was OK, I guess but I didn’t love this one either.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      This definitely is a book that requires you to love the main character to love the book…you’re inside Eleanor’s head almost the entire time! And good for you for dropping it when it didn’t work for you – I’ve felt so much more free with my reading ever since I started DNFing books!

  2. Renee

    I think I mentioned in another post, this was a DNF for me. I read about 30 pages and Eleanor was ok but kind of got on my nerves and I felt like the plot was super slow. Of course, it could also be a mood thing for me because I also tried The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which every blogger out there seems to have loved and I couldn’t get into it

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh no! Sorry someone ruined the ending – that’s beyond frustrating when that happens!

  3. Susie | Novel Visits

    Great book to discuss, Sarah! As you know, I loved Eleanor, but I listened to it on audio and I think that made it a completely different experience. The narrator was so good that I felt like Eleanor was right there telling me her story. It felt very personal.

    After listening to a book, I often wonder if my feelings about the book would be vastly different if I had read it. I think often that’s true. For example, I really liked Since We Fell when I listened to it, but I think if I’d read it I would have been annoyed at the really out-there ending. Listening to it, I was so engrossed that it barely registered. The power of a great narrator!

    Back to Eleanor! I agree the ending was neat and tidy and I usually hate that, but for some reason in this book it didn’t bother me. I though Eleanor deserved neat and tidy for a change.Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is still one of my favorite books this year.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Glad you loved it! And interesting about the audio. Fiction just does not work for me on audio, so wasn’t an option. I’m more likely to have the reverse happen…something not work for me on audio, but might in print.

    • diane shirley

      I too listened as an audio book………..I would recommend that for anyone. Wonderful reader, very compelling.

    • Lisa

      I loved the character and the book until the end. Yes, it’s neat and tidy but the problem in my opinion is that it’s too neat and tidy! The plot twist re: the mother is just not believable. Can a character be smarter than her creator? In this case, I think so. The writer let down her readers’ intelligence, something I don’t think Eleanor Oliphant would have approved of!

      • Lucy Knight

        I completely agree! There was so much potential with ‘Mummy’ that was left untapped, it was very frustrating.

        • Susan Confrancisco

          Spoiler alert in discussion question!

          Yes, and the end was chilling because…could it have been that Eleanor tied up mummy and marianne and set the fire?? who really knows? Is she still suppressing that?? The newspaper article said they were bound. How could mummy do that to herself?

          • Sophie

            Just to clarify, the article said the two children had been bound, and the mother died “of smoke inhalation while fleeing.”

          • Amy

            OK Just read the book and wondering if the articles at end had an editorial issue, or it pointed to the fact that Eleanor fabricated things in her mind. It gives original article reporting fire as the first week in August, then second article noting the suspicious deaths and Eleanor leaving hospital as last week in September, but says, “from the fire last week”. I thought that was a very obvious mistake.

      • Bianca

        Precisely. I was beyond disappointed when I got to that revelation and it left me wondering if the book was still worth liking. I also started questioning everything in Eleanor’s life, even Glen.

    • Marie-France Boissonneault

      I also just recently listened to the novel and loved the narrator. I think I may have struggled more with the book if I read it. However, I completely agree with Sarah about the end. It almost ruined the story for me.

  4. Novels And Nonfiction

    I’m on hold for the audiobook of this one at the library and I’m so interested to read everyone’s varying perspectives on it in the meantime. I wonder if I’ll think it’s trite and overhyped like you did 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Keep me posted! I’ve seen some say the audio is wonderful and they wonder if they would’ve liked it so much in print.

  5. Madeline

    I’m on hold for it too. I’m 24 on 29 copies, so it should come within the month. I’m not adverse to tidy endings as long as they’re done well and not in the last page; in fact, I get irritated by ambiguous ones. This sounded quirky enough — without being too much so.

    I’m looking forward to finding out!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Totally a matter of personal preference! I like open-ended endings as long as their realistic and not abrupt, but have many friends who can’t stand them.

  6. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    Interesting points! I often find that I am underwhelmed by the “feel-good” books that everyone loves (one reason I think I tend to shy away from contemporary fiction). Am I too cynical? Have I just read too many books and the formulas are getting too familiar? Well, I still intend to give this one a try and see if I have similar reactions to yours. It does always bother me when there is some past mystery or plot point that one expects to be delved into and it never is.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      They do start to feel formulaic, right?! Feel-good books are OK for me sometimes…as long as the story isn’t too predictable.

  7. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I do like heart-warming books with tidy endings, but I’ve actually read some reviews where bloggers couldn’t connect with Eleanor’s character and found her too odd. It’s made me hesitate to pick it up, but even though you didn’t love it, your review made me much more interested 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      A couple others have commented that they couldn’t connect with Eleanor’s character. That wasn’t my particular issue with the book, though!

  8. Kimberly

    I tried the Kindle sample in order to see if I wanted to read this and I couldn’t even finish that. I thought I was the only one who didn’t like this book. Glad to know I’m not.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      It’s so nice to find others that are in the minority of a hyped book! Nice to feel a little less alone!

  9. Andrea

    This is how I feel about Lincoln in the Bardo, among others! I was waffling on this one, but may pass…

    • Michele

      Lincoln took me a while to get into. I almost DNF. Then, I googled enough spoilers to help me decide. Once I connected with what was happening, I loved it.

  10. Susan

    I *loved* Eleanor Oliphant! (I’m not the same Susan who commented above, just to be clear.)

    Eleanor is very quirky, so I can appreciate that not everyone would warm to her, but I was completely on her side as I read the book. I didn’t find the story to be at all cliche, and I thought that it was an incredibly accomplished first novel. I’ll definitely look out for more from Gail Honeyman.

  11. Lisa

    I loved the character and laughed out loud many time but the ending ruined it for me. The twist doesn’t make sense. You can’t do that!!! Yes, it WAS a cop out for sure. If you’re going to do that you have to do it like it was done in The Sixth Sense: if you go back and review the relevant scenes, it makes sense. It does not in this book. I was also disappointed by the anticlimactic scene with the singer at the club. Given everything we knew up to that point about the character and her obsession, it should have taken more for her to have realized the misguidedness of her feelings for him. That plot turn was much more believable, however, than the one presented at the end of the book. Very disappointing and her editor shouldn’t have allowed it.

    • Lisa

      Deus ex machina: that’s the term I couldn’t remember during my last post. It’s a plot twist completely out of touch with the context of the work of fiction. That’s what I feel this twist at the end was. We’re led to believe there’s going to be a painful and horrific revelation but then the writer cops out and throws a tepid plot twist at us at the very end. Not that I wanted a horrific revelation but I also didn’t want something that didn’t make sense. I just can’t overlook such a giant fail.
      The book, in fact, was more of a page turner than A Man Called Ove, another novel about an eccentric loner but that book slowly built up to an ending that had me breaking down in tears. Ultimately it all worked beautifully.
      For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Gail Honeyman thought this ending tied everything together. It actually unraveled what I thought was a very enjoyable novel up to that points. I really think endings can make or break a story. Most people hated the movie “mother!” but the ending wrapped everything up in a way that gave me that “Aha!” moment I needed. Eleanor Oliphant did the complete opposite. Instead of an “Aha!” it was a What?!”

      • Sarah Dickinson

        OMG – it has a name!! Thank you! I talk about this idea all the time, especially with thrillers (Behind Her Eyes comes to mind)! Thrilled to have a term for it now. And it’s a huge pet peeve of mine in reading 🙂

  12. Connee

    Thank-you for your post on this! I have been bewildered by the rave reviews & overwhelmingly positive response to this book. I thought it was quite a superficial treatment of a potentially interesting subject & really badly written. I often enjoy the combination of bleak humour, serious subjects & quirky characters in fiction (Miriam Toews handles it brilliantly) but here I found the whole tone & style unsympathetic, affected & trying too hard so to me it didn’t come across as authentic or amusing. I don’t think you always have to love the characters you read about to enjoy a book but Eleanor was just irritating & tiresome & her portrayal didn’t feel real. I was interested to hear about how the author came to write & publish her first novel etc & I really wanted to like it but was disappointed. Obviously she is finding great success & has many fans out there so I’m aware I’m out of step with the majority on this one… I must be missing something because I just don’t get it.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I hear you! I can see why people liked it that like a certain style book, but it just wasn’t for me. I actually thought Eleanor was kind of amusing, but the story itself was cliche for me.

    • Chris

      You can read a bit about author’s inspiration by scrolling down a little on this Harper Collins link: https://www.harpercollins.com.au/blog/2018/04/06/read-eleanor-right-now/

      Thanks Sarah, this is an interesting blog/thread, which gives me some comfort: I’m not the only one feeling like DNF is on the cards. Although I have deep empathy for stories and themes of loneliness and traumatic childhoods, and how they can impact a whole lifetime devastatingly, the character built here feels, sadly, unlikable, and I’m not drawn in to really want to follow her further development.

      There were some very funny life observations that make me smile, such as the wedding gift registry and the bikini wax descriptions. They were valid points, yet felt like they orininated from the perspective of the author’s own lens, rather than that of the character.

  13. Christine Sutton

    I loved it – but interested in why you think the twist was unbelievable. I read back and thought it was quite believable that the conversations were in Eleanor’s head.

  14. Leah

    What was the ending? My library ebook ran out when I was like 90% through I also wasn’t a super big fan of this book it just felt superficial and unrealistic but I am still how it ended.

  15. Michelle Blight

    I agree I loved her character , although someone who reads all the time and is ,in her own words , good at research would be quite do naive about the world . In the beginning she knows about wine then with Raymond she is surprised the bottle is a screw top. The whole Declan twist is unbelievable, the conversations with “mummy” , I mean she said the phone ringing made her jump
    This book is a good character wasted in a rushed , badly thought out plot. Shame.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m sort of on board with you. Did like her character…my issues were definitely with the plot.

  16. Susan

    I can’t get over the dates of the articles. The first article is dated August 5; the second is dated September 28 and refers to “last week’s . . . fire.” Is this horribly sloppy writing and editing, or am I just an idiot missing something here? Completely ruined the book for me.

    • Amy

      I had same issue. I just finished it and am now googling to see if there is any explanation! It left me wondering if it was a hint that the whole thing is in Eleanor’s head. If Mummy’s fake, why can’t everyone else be? To me it seems a glaring editorial error, but unfortunately I’ve seen them before. Mainly due to autocorrect and they put in a wrong word.

  17. Eden Hunt

    I’m late to the discussion here but I’m telling you, audio is the way to go with this book. If I read this book instead of listening to it, I would’ve dropped it 30 pages in…but the narrator was amazing and really brought Eleanor to life! You felt you knew the character and were rooting for her as her life opened up. I’ve listened to many audible books and this is the only one I’ve listened to that I absolutely know that audio changed what the experience would’ve been for me.

  18. Charlene Quigley

    I agree, there were sloppy little editing errors. I also felt early on that the Mummy conversations could not be for real. I thought prison conversations were monitored, so there is no way the shameful verbal abuse could just start up and be allowed to continue. The social workers knew about it, so clearly, she had more complex issues then just depression. Too recover so easily from alcholism seemed wrong. There were hints that Eleanor started the fire. The book had so much promise, but was a missed opportunity.

  19. Hilary Reilly

    I also felt irritated by the plot, and especially the ending. Did anybody else wonder about the several references to characters in ‘ Jane Eyre’? Mr Brocklehurst, the Reed family, Rebecca Scatcherd, and finally, Miss Maria Temple – all from Charlotte Bronte’s novel. Why?? I began to wonder about the mystery of the fire, a mad woman . . but this led nowhere! Very frustrating!

  20. Verity

    I’ve just finished it. It’s so readable I read it in a few days and was hooked. I love Honeyman’s personal story – first book at 40 and SO much success. So totally well done her! She’s encouragement to us all.

    However, to me the book felt superficial. I think you nailed it by calling it rom-com. I mean she literally redoes her hair and buys new makeup. Much like the Hollywood cliché of the nerd who takes off her glasses and lets down her hair and happiness soon follows.

    I was intrigued to know if people who’ve suffered such childhoods would empathise, and is her seemingly autistic behaviour authentic?

    I hated that there has to be a sad back story to the office outcast. Surely, some people are just a bit unconventional? And what happens then? Can we still empathise when they’re just considered socially weird and are not on a path to normality? It’s like on Britain’s Got Talent when the Susan Boyles are loved *because* they sing well. The weirdos who can’t perform get laughed and booed off stage and no one feels bad. If we want to truly empathise with the weird and want to reduce their loneliness, don’t we have to accept they’re *just* weird? And they’re lonely as we / mainstream society shun(s) the weird?

    So many of Eleanor’s literal observations, while sometimes funny and true, feel like author rants.

    Eleanor’s ability to get over her alcoholism and childhood trauma seemed way too fast and easy.

    And why did Raymond make so much effort with her in the first place? He seems like a totally normal bloke. Maybe he’d make a little effort but that much?

    I found Elenor’s character likeable and at times funny, but I didn’t believe her. That’s my ultimate problem. I didn’t buy her or the storyline. I’ve had counselling to deal with a parent’s death. It was nowhere near as clean or easy as her path. And my dad died innocently, without murdering my sibling. Obviously that’s a personal response. Maybe other people who’ve had similar situations would recognise it completely, I just didn’t.

    I think Reese Witherspoon buying the rights is telling. I’m a big fan of her and her films, but she’s rom-com.

    In total, it entertained me for a few days, but I don’t feel I came away with a deeper understanding of anything or anybody.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You’re so write about it feeling like a teen movie…what was that movie where the nerd gets a makeover and then gets the boy?! She’s All That or something like that? Also Sixteen Candles?! And Hayley and Nathan on One Tree Hill. Come to think of it, that plotline is everywhere.

      I did like some of her rants…especially the wedding ones. Maybe b/c I’m kind of salty about that stuff too 🙂

  21. Sarah C

    The twist left me bewildered and a little disappointed. I wanted Eleanor to be able to confront her mother in more than just her head. Thinking back though, I realized that she got a cell phone during the course of the book. I’m this day and age I thought she probably didn’t use her land line much.
    I felt what made the twist unbelievable is the Mother’s side conversations and the sounds like her chewing tobacco. It wasn’t just as if Eleanor was reliving her trauma by rehearing her mother’s verbal abuse as in post traumatic stress disorder. The author made the jail setting too believable in my opinion.
    I also hated the neighbors description of the mother as pretty. I wanted to view her as a monster both inside and out.
    It might be the romantic in me but I also wished the plot twist may be that the sister also escaped but that Eleanor was unaware of this because she was separated from her through the system. It would have been so wonderful for Eleanor to find she had an opportunity to find her. I am still so heartbroken that she lost her little sister in this way. I know books can be sad but I just can’t get past that. For that reason I did not find the book uplifting.
    I didn’t hate the book overall. I actually liked Eleanor for the most part. I liked her inner narrative. She was never malicious but most often bewildered as if seeing the world for the first time. At times I felt her bewilderment unbelievable but still found it made her interesting. Her innocence made her negative traits more endearing.

    • Sarah R

      Sarah C – I love your idea of having her sister be alive! That would have made this book so much better. It was just average for me. I don’t mind neat endings, but I do agree with Sarah Dickinson that I wish we had more of a backstory on the mom. I did like Eleanor’s viewpoint, but at times she felt so one-sided. Like how did she get through life and get a job being this socially awkward? It seemed that Honeyman wrote her more as a caricature rather than a fully fleshed out character.

  22. Kelley Mariano

    So, I liked the book because anything that compels me to read in every spare second of my life has to get at least 4 stars from me.
    But, I would not characterize this as a feel good book. It was horrendously depressing and upsetting as we were clued into more and more of her life. I just don’t get the ‘feel good’ description by most people who’s reviews I’ve read here and on Goodreads.
    Don’t misunderstand….I like books about dysfunctional lives (is something wrong with me???), and this was definitely a book in that category. I didn’t even feel the ending was ‘too perfect’ because this woman’s life was hell, whether we learn specifics or not.
    I do like Eleanor a lot. Her ability to reflect on herself is more than most of us do.

  23. Flash

    I grabbed it at the airport because I wanted something funny …. and the cover promised funny. I read a third of the way and never cracked a smile. It’s depressing, disturbing and leaves you feeling a little uneasy. Apparently Reece and I have a vastly different definition of humor.

  24. Helen

    All the readers talking about the freedom of quitting a book 30pgs in… 60 pgs in… my husband has ADD so he is in your camp, don’t waste his time on anything he’s not engrossed in, but it makes me a little sad because there are so many books I would have missed out on if I didn’t have patience in the beginning. And the slow start is often by design but you can’t understand how it fits in until you get further on. A Gentleman in Moscow comes to mind. (I’d recommend this book to anyone!). Any of the great books of Russian literature are slow going at first. Also Eleanor (although not in the same camp as Brothers Karamazov):). Initially I thought, oh another book with a lonely single quirky heroine who doesn’t fit in, but as it evolves it was so much more! I guess I would just say, take all the hype with a grain of salt, but maybe have enough faith that there is probably a reason people like the book? BTW, I also listened to this book, and the narration was fantastic. The accents, the different voices… such a good narrator.

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