Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review. Since I became unwell back in December I put my book club to one side to alleviate any pressure, perhaps I’ll start it up again, perhaps not. I’m still reading though, of course – why wouldn’t you? It’s exercise for the brain, don’t you know? To be honest, finding time to read has been tricky of late but I’m hoping now that we are settling into a routine I’ll pick up books more.
Yet despite being sans book club, some books are so potent that I want to write about them. This is one of those. Not only is it superbly written, it is poignantly hilarious. What does that even you, you ask? Well, see for yourself.
The humour is fabulous. Eleanor’s assessments of people and experiences are completely hilarious. They are so left-field in a way that is also touching as you recognise her dysfunctional upbringing as being the cause of it.
She develops a crush on a singer in a bar, who very quickly is revealed to be a complete loser to the reader, but it takes a while for Eleanor’s bubble to burst. Even though she wears the same clothes every day and never makes much fuss over her appearance, Eleanor decides to go and have a wax. When asked if she wants french, brazilian, or hollywood, Eleanor’s choice is dictated by what she feels to be an amusing play on words. “Hollywood – because Holly would!”.
I was in tears!
It was a painfully real depiction of chronic loneliness; the existence of many human beings. It is a psychological affliction that can cause a lot of damage over time. I couldn’t stop thinking about the epigraph at the start of the novel, which quotes The Lonely City by Olivia Laing…
…the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.
Eleanor is one of the most judgmental and critical characters I have come across. But there is a genuine confusion about social norms that stems from her upbringing and this can be perceived as snobby criticism. I do agree with her confusion over the appeal of MacDonald’s though. There are so many layers to her loneliness and it takes someone who is willing persevere with kindness to dig through it.
What impacted me most
It made me think about how easily I might be put off by someone’s behaviour rather than giving second chances… and third chances… and fourth chances. We all desperately need connection and I know I can take my relationships for granted. I hope the next time I meet someone who is intensely lonely I won’t be easily rebuffed.