Characters aren’t goodies, baddies or plot devices, they just feel like people. The overwhelming emotion is kindness. If you don’t cry the first time Eleanor goes to a hair salon and thanks the blowsy Laura for 'making her shiny,' you haven’t a heart. This is a narrative full of quiet warmth and deep and unspoken sadness. It makes you want to throw a party and invite everyone you know and give them a hug, even that person at work everyone thinks is a bit weird.
That Eleanor’s social awkwardness is extreme, sometimes painfully and often comically so, is far more apparent to the reader than it is to Eleanor herself — and that we get this through Eleanor’s own narration is a credit to the author’s cleverness and craft ... If Eleanor finds her way to some semblance of normality, and to a reckoning with her awful past through therapy, that may be a bit more real than the earlier goofiness has led us to expect — but that doesn’t make the goofiness any less delightful, or Gail Honeyman’s reflections on loneliness any less poignant.
The reader doesn’t find out exactly what happened until the final pages, even though it feels like the answer might be coming at nearly every turn. That suspense makes the book compelling, vivid, and delightfully frustrating. Reading the novel is also delightfully funny. Looking through Eleanor’s eyes is like looking at the world through funhouse mirrors. Things that aren’t usually amusing all of a sudden become so ... In the vein of Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh — an eerily similar work about an eerily similar character with an eerily similar name — the book makes you question your worldview. If you strip away social norms, what ultimate truth lies beneath? And while Eleanor certainly isn’t completely fine and has more than a few things to learn about the world, there’s a lot the world could learn from Eleanor, too.