22 responses

    • I haven’t read Harold Fry but I have seen Eleanor compared to it (and also to The Rosie Project). The hype around this book makes me slightly uncomfortable because it does deal with trauma (and some people need a trigger warning for that) and I’m always wary when books get loads of hype (sets my expectations high). You won’t miss anything by giving this book a pass.

    • I was aware of the hype but only via Goodreads and blogs – I haven’t read/heard anything about the author but I am curious as to what the inspiration for the character was. Coincidentally, I’m reading an Anita Brookner at the moment – she has the monopoly on middle-aged lonely women (!) so would be interested to know why Honeyman added the trauma to Eleanor’s story, as opposed to simply telling the story of a lonely woman who seeks connection.

    • The writing style is light and Eleanor’s observations about things are funny but to be clear, this story is about trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder and from that point-of-view it should come with a trigger warning.

    • Yes, lower your expectations. I read it quickly and it wasn’t taxing. I imagine you’ll read through a similar lens as me – Honeyman positions Eleanor as potentially on the spectrum or socially awkward but that didn’t work for me from the outset because of particular details – had I not understood trauma and PTSD, I might have gone along with Honeyman’s angle and been more surprise by the ending.

  1. I really hate how now that readers are looking for diverse books, they see that as an opportunity to diagnose characters. My creative writing students did that this past semester (writing characters with mental disabilities). I mean, who do people think they are that they see some behaviors or know a couple of traits that a person with autism or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia has and go “ah, yes, clearly I am a trained psychologist and understand you better than you understand yourself.” I mean, come on, people!! Okay, whew, I’m ranting. But thanks for not labeling a fictional character with a mental disorder–that’s what I’m trying to say.

    • I’ve been studying counselling for a couple of years and despite being exposed to various mental health and personality conditions, I would always be very wary of making a ‘diagnosis’ about such conditions. As you no doubt understand, labels are a double-edged sword and the problem with mental health and personality disorder labels is that some people define themselves by the label.

      • The counselor at my college isn’t licensed in diagnosing learning disabilities, so even though he’s the guy who sends professors like me the accommodations for students, he’s not the one who makes the diagnosis. That has to come from a special kind of doctor/counselor. The whole thing about my students giving their characters “mental disorders” to justify them being killers or unaccountable for choices drove me up a wall. I soon learned that many of them were enrolled in Psychology 101. I think that professor and I should have a chat to lead students away from playing amateur doctor.

      • Absolutely agree and I think that Multiple Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality are the ones that amateurs most readily exploit. I understand the fascination for Pysch 101 students but if they are continuing down that path of study, they also need ethical maturity to frame their knowledge.

  2. I think the issue with Eleanor Oliphant, at least for me, is that Honeyman seems to be conflating antisocial behaviours that tend to arise from separate sources (social awkwardness is not the same thing as autistic-spectrum behaviour, which is not the same thing as trauma), and, moreover, she wants us to laugh at Eleanor for displaying these traits while also pitying her, which opens the book up to charges of either cruelty or obliviousness.

    • I agree about the spectrum/ awkwardness/ trauma – that element made me uncomfortable and there’s danger in generalising peoples’ experiences (and creating a raft of ‘armchair experts’ who have read one book about trauma and then think all experiences are the same – much like what The Rosie Project did for (against) Asperger’s).

      I found the humour in the book to be oddly mixed. I liked Eleanor’s observations – some were very insightful, especially around office-politics – but other scenes, such as her wax and makeover, seemed designed to laugh at her, not with.

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