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Honeyman’s debut has received rave reviews and its fair share of awards, although it has also divided opinion. Eleanor Oliphant is thirty years old and lonely. Her colleagues think she is odd and are more likely to be found laughing at her behind her back than making conversation with her. This she can tolerate, the isolated weekends that are eased only with the help of a bottle of vodka however, are harder to swallow. Her case may be extreme but it’s not uncommon for people to find themselves with nobody to talk to outside of work. ‘These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, bought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it.’ Thankfully, even in the few yeas since the book was published, the conversation around loneliness has become more prominent.
There are a number of threads running through the story. It is hinted at early on that Eleanor suffered some trauma in her childhood which is alluded to throughout and gradually revealed in more detail. We are led to suppose that it is the events from her youth that are at the root of her naïve yet oddly formal behaviour, her inability to engage with the world in what others would consider a normal way. The further into the novel the more we see the connections between her past and her current mental state and self-confidence. Her attempts at healing feel very true to life and are emotional to read
The other main narrative thread draws on common tropes found in rom-coms – a crush on a man that is obviously no good while remaining oblivious to the kindness of someone closer, and the physical transformation that a change of clothes and some make-up brings. These parts feel more predictable and cliched but make for easy reading.
An interesting, humorous read that gives you the perspective of a young woman who’s never quite learned to connect with her fellow humans. Her internal monologue shows her confusion with popular culture and the behaviour of those she meets, and although you root for her you can understand why people get off on the wrong foot with her. There are some inconsistencies and the ease with which she adapts to some of the situations don’t seem quite in keeping with her general character but overall this is a heartfelt, relatable read.
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