Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

It is only May, but I could easily give you my five favorite books of 2018, Eleanor Oliphant included. I am on a roll.

To start, I listened to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on Audible, and it was a delightful experience in account of Cathleen McCarron’s impeccable accent and narration. I went on handfuls of long runs while listening to this book without a care for the distance. The story is solid, but the narration on its own is a delight. (Take a listen to the sample preview, if you have a moment.) 

Thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant is an unusual, quirky person. Put plainly, she’s awkward and not consistently suited for all social interactions. She speaks bluntly and struggles to understand why certain social norms exist. We don’t know a lot about Eleanor at the start of the book, but we know she lives alone, works in the accounting department at a design firm, and is burdened by less-than-lovely conversations with her mother. She exists rather than lives.

The plot charges forward when Eleanor is thrust into a predicament. She and co-worker Raymond see an old man collapse on the street and Eleanor struggles to navigate appropriate responses. Through this unscheduled event, Eleanor and Raymond develop a friendship, or at least, a consistent interaction that Eleanor eventually perceives as a friendship. 

As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Eleanor has the sort of tragic past one reads about in the newspapers. Buried memories begin to surface and it isn’t pretty.

Though some of the subject matter, as it pertains to Eleanor’s upbringing and early 20s, isn’t funny at all, the book is a near riot. I was the goofball giggling to herself along the Greenway somewhere between seven and ten miles. Gail Honeyman nailed character development. She built a whole, believable, endearing woman with words and inference.

I highly, highly recommend this one.

Book Review: The French Girl

I listened to The French Girl on Audible since I’ve settled in to audiobooks during long runs. (It’s wonderful how quickly an hour or two will pass when I’m engrossed in a story.)

Set in present day, our narrator Kate Channing lives with a haunting. A decade prior Kate and a group of Oxford friends enjoyed a week’s vacation together at a French farmhouse. Some coupled, a few not, the group drank and goofed around as most university students would away from the pressures of academia.

Next door to the farmhouse lived Severine, a siren of a woman who intermingled with the Brits, causing heads to turn and jealousies to be born. The week ended with Severine missing.

Ten years later, her body is discovered in a well on the farmhouse property. With the French’s girl’s body, everything is unearthed. Unfortunately for Kate, the mystery of Severine’s death is made worse by the girl’s sudden, consistent presence in Kate’s everyday life. Is she hallucinating? Is Severine trying to communicate something? Or is Kate being punished on account of events she doesn’t remember?

The archetypes are strong in The French Girl. Like the cast of Friends, each character fulfills a specific role in the plot. Whether this is to the book’s benefit or detriment, I cannot decide. Right away I suspected a particular person, and though that suspicion shifted only a time or two, I settled confidently on this character based on archetype alone. My suspicions rang true.

This doesn’t distract from the mystery, though. It was still worthwhile to finish the book if only to discern how Severine died and why she, in her afterlife or in Kate’s own delusion, decided to linger and make her presence known in quiet, subtle ways. This element of suspense kept my attention, particularly since it was written so delicately.

I’m always curious about debut novels. Not the first book an author has written; rather, the first book a publishing house chooses to promote. More than reading it, I study it. What’s the equation? What’s the catch? Why this book? Lexie Elliott crafted a solid whodunit, but with flare. Archetypes + a Murder + the ghost of the dead girl? It’s a workable equation.

Which makes sense, considering Elliott is a theoretical physicist.