The Costa First Novel Winner has been highly celebrated in the book world. Eleanor, the title character, is a 30 year old woman who goes beyond just 'socially awkward'. While we never get an official diagnosis for Eleanor, it is likely that she is autistic, and we quickly learn that she has suffered from serious childhood trauma.
As we see Eleanor navigate life, with unexpected events throwing new relationships and experiences into her life. At times Eleanor's interactions or thought processes are endearing and it is easy to sympathise, if not empathise, with her take on some of the more odd and arbitrary aspects of life. However, at other times it seems like the joke is on our narrator and it becomes difficult to laugh at her expense when we realise that she has had no-one to draw on, no crash course in what is considered 'normal' or 'acceptable' outside of her abuse.
The novel is perhaps very clever in this sense, challenging our ideas of what these words even mean, what it is to be 'normal', why we all seek to fit in and be accepted. Eleanor's journey changes her, and changes her understanding and perception of the world, and it would take an impassive reader not to be affected by the relationships she forms - be it with Raymond, Sammy and his family or even the cat.
Yet there were still elements of the book that didn't quite gel - portraying mental health issues is an incredibly fine line between giving these issues a voice and becoming exploitative. This novel thankfully leans towards the former but at times the humor veers off course. While we all wish for the best for characters that we grow interested in, the ending was trite, deviating from the realism employed elsewhere in the book. The novel has been labelled as part of an 'uplift' trend in contemporary literature and it certainly fits this bill - it was a pleasure to read and is incredibly uplifting. Gail Honeyman is one to watch for the future.
- This review was first published on the author's own blog See Orange