Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but is the Book Really Worth it?

With the new year, I set a goal for myself to read more. I decided then to commence a book I’d been recommended countless times. Just a warning – there will be spoilers throughout, so if you are eager to start the book with fresh eyes, perhaps this article isn’t for you.

This book was, in many ways, strange but oddly comforting. I spent a large portion actively knowing that I disliked the main character. I don’t know if it’s the fact I couldn’t relate to her emotions, the way she talked and conducted herself, it was rather intense. Maybe its because the character was so literal, I just never understood her or her feelings.

I feel like the start of the book really needed the context given at the end, a little earlier. It felt like the plot all came together in the last few chapters that it would’ve been nicer to reflect upon earlier.

The story follows a social outcast, Eleanor Oliphant, as she works her way through life. She has routine, eats the same meal and finds logic out of all her decisions. She is frank, brutish but dreams throughout of dating a local musician.

And where I feel the book has far too much leadup and too much of Eleanor’s basic life, I also feel like it’s finished in a blink of an eye. Maybe I’m naïve to think a book perhaps needs a bit more action, but when it does start, it’s a great to understand the character more. The character development is heavy in this book, but as I spent most of it very much disliking Eleanor, the frankness of the ending leads me to believe that I could’ve appreciated her more than what I initially felt.

image credit: Heather Dalgleish

One critique is that this is not a book for those suffering with mental health problems, and I personally would’ve been grateful for a trigger warning. I understand that a book doesn’t have to disclose, but there is a very heavily descriptive suicide attempt. And the book rather inaccurately describes mental health in a way that I feel the author didn’t necessarily understand.

It would be hard to avoid the way the author constantly writes in a fatphobic manner too, talking about avoiding fat people on the bus, chunky ankles and looking heavy-set. The comments on people’s weight in negative ways is a rather old-fashioned viewpoint, which is hard to work past as the comments are rather prevalent throughout.

And it does little to address the problems with her alcoholism. It actually just passes over it like a cloud. She drinks two bottles of vodka every weekend and attempts to drink herself to death, but then she just stops and is completely fine. It’s never mentioned again, apart from her naming her cat after vodka.

Plus, I am sceptical that someone who does so well at crosswords would never had to answer questions on celebrities, hamburgers or many of everyday items as Eleanor seems so perplexed by. Mainly because crosswords are pretty hard already without general knowledge.

But the book does stress the importance of kindness, to avoid the inner negativity swirling in your head and that voice that tells you all the bad and never the good (taken by her dead mother.)

I also want to note that a lot of people actually googled what was wrong with Eleanor, as she in many ways felt neurodivergent. And in many ways, I feel like a lot of people have adopted this book on Eleanor’s weirdness, her personality and the way she is such an outcast. Maybe I am too extroverted for this book to hit home with me.

So would I say its worth a read? I honestly am not sure. The book touches on wonderful feelings and you end up rooting for Eleanor in ways that you never would imagine by the end. But I do feel like the book begins properly after the first 100 pages and has very problematic writing fashion, so perhaps not?

I think it is important to note that some will 100% feel differently, especially those who are introverted, recluse or those who have been emotionally neglected. I think those people deserve to have voices in books and I am sympathetic to the issues raised in the book. I hope everyone can find their deserving Raymond. And I do in many ways hope that a sequel is on the cards, where I could understand and delve into Eleanor’s character more and be more sympathetic then my original assumptions. I just wish I knew more of her earlier than the last remaining chapters gave away and could properly see her character development then a few short scenes.

Published by Heather Dalgleish

21-year-old journalism student. Author and illustrator for In Full Bloom Magazine

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