Thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant is a finance clerk with no friends, no communication skills, and no desire for something more from her drab routine of meal deals, crosswords, and two litres of Glen’s vodka every weekend. That is, until a random act of kindness knocks her out of her comfort zone, forcing her to address her past and change her future.
I was excited to read this. A debut from a Glaswegian writer with good reviews from bloggers and friends, shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, and named as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year? Sign me up!
In the end, I couldn’t push through 400 pages of this book. I read the first 60 pages, skimmed through the middle, and read parts two and three, Bad Days and Better Days, from page 259 to the end. I think that’s enough to have given the novel a fair chance. Here’s why it fell flat for me:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Foppish
Foppish (adjective) – affecting extreme elegance in dress and manner.
The main reason for my aversion to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Eleanor’s narrative voice. She talks like the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley from Downton Abbey – read: posh and haughty – which I found a) obnoxious, and b) entirely unbelievable.
Like that of Violet Crawley, Eleanor’s voice can be a source of brassy (if oblivious) wit; I did appreciate that. In truth, if Eleanor was also a countess born in 1842, I might have found her entertaining instead of unlikeable. But she’s not – she’s a finance clerk born in 1987. Which brings me to my next point.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fusty
Fusty (adjective) – rigidly old-fashioned or reactionary.
Eleanor has no grasp of the realities of 21st-century British society. Here are two noteworthy examples that made me groan out loud.
The first: Eleanor decides to try to seduce another character. The first thing she does is go to a salon to get a bikini wax. The beauty technician asks what style Eleanor wants, and Eleanor chooses Hollywood. Then, when she sees she’s completely bare, she is shocked and speaks rudely to the technician.
‘Kayla,’ I said, unable to believe the situation I now found myself in, ‘the man in whom I am interested is a normal adult man. He will enjoy sexual relations with a normal adult woman. Are you trying to imply that he’s some sort of paedophile? How dare you!’
The second: Eleanor goes shopping for a computer she can use to stalk said man. At the store, she doesn’t know the difference between a desktop, a laptop, and a tablet. She calls herself “a very inexperienced technology consumer” and once again, patronises a worker when her own lack of knowledge is causing the problem.
I understand that Eleanor is meant to be a quirky, funny character, but if you think about any of her quirks for more than two seconds, you realise they don’t make any sense. Thus:
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Flabbergasting
Flabbergast (verb) – to overcome with surprise and bewilderment.
The wholly unsatisfying explanation for Eleanor’s foppish and fusty attitude is that she was raised in Maida Vale by a strange, posh mother for the first ten years of her life.
If you’re not immediately baffled by that, you should be. She only spent 1987 to 1997 with her eccentric mum in central London, so why does she talk like she was born in 1902 and she’s never seen a computer before? For heaven’s sake, she went to uni – presumably for maths – in the late 2000s and now lives in the city, reads The Telegraph cover to cover, and works in Finance for a graphic design company – and we’re supposed to believe she doesn’t know the difference between a laptop, a desktop, and a tablet? Seriously?
The plot didn’t grab me at first, but despite the fact that I found it all rather predictable, I do think it grew more interesting in the last two parts of the novel. Still, Eleanor’s insufferable narration and its implausibility grated on my nerves far too much for me to settle in and enjoy the story.
1/5 stars. (What does this mean?)
Publication: 2017, Harper Collins
Disclaimer: Harper Collins gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.
I know this isn’t a popular opinion. Do you agree that this novel doesn’t live up to the hype? Or do you think I’ve got it all wrong? Let me know in the comments!
This review has been cross-posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing.