Reinventing The ‘F’ Word

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

I believe in signs. I saw this advertised, had it recommended then nearly walked into the stand it was in my current local bookshop. So, usual clumsiness aside, I just had to get it on Kindle. As much as I love print books I tend to get them second hand and I’m also abroad at the moment and don’t need the extra baggage!

I read it in a day or two and really enjoyed it. I actually bought two new books at the same time and this one’s first page drew me in more than the other. I found it funny and lovely and frustrating. It’s written in a way I found I related to, even though I have no similar experiences to Eleanor’s character.

I recently read a comment that people think or are asking whether Eleanor Oliphant is meant to be autistic in the book. I haven’t looked this up myself, I don’t know the author’s intention, but it is completely not the way I read her. It literally didn’t occur to me.

She is complex, awkward and often has no idea how to act in social situations. When you hear her thought processes it’s clear she has little understanding of what we would term ‘normal’ social behaviour and interactions. Sometimes this made me feel like cringing, sometimes it made me sad, and sometimes it made me laugh out loud. Her description of doing the YMCA was perfect. Like someone describing the bizarre rituals of an unknown tribe or a different species.

I didn’t see this as being high on the autism spectrum though. It was explained through her childhood traumas, her disjointed upbringing and basically having no framework of what usual human interaction should be. When she eventually sees a therapist, the therapist picks up on this when she tells Eleanor that having a roof over your head and food are the bare essentials of what we need as humans. We also need emotional interaction and support and she has never seen what this behaviour should look like.

It makes for an intriguing story. There’s a slow reveal of her background and some of the reasons she is the way she is. Horrifying details are casually dropped into the chapters and are effective in keeping driving the story forward, keeping the reader’s interest and peeling back the layers of Eleanor’s ‘fine’ life.

I’m not giving any more spoilers. I really enjoyed it and I think it’s an important read.

None of us should be settling for fine. And if we’re a little bit brave, we can enjoy a lot more.


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