How to describe Eleanor Oliphant in five hundred words or less?
She’s 29 years old and thinks telling people she works in an office is the fastest way to get them to stop asking questions about what she does.
She can go days without ever talking to another living soul. And no, her potted plant – for all its photosynthetic capabilities – does not count.
She’s got a decided opinion on a lot of things. In fact, she reminds me of a female version of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. She takes things literally and portions of human interaction just stump her in its sheer stupidity. To illustrate my – or shall I say Eleanor’s – point, I present to you Eleanor Oliphant’s List Of Inexplicable Things Other People Do:
They choose things like plates, bowls and cutlery – I mean what are they doing at the moment: shovelling food from packets into their mouths with their bare hands? I simply fail to see how the act of legally formalising a human relationship necessitates friends, family and co-workers upgrading the contents of their kitchen for them.
Eleanor on the madness of a wedding gift registry
I have yet to find a genre of music I enjoy; its basically audible physics, waves and energised particles, and, like most sane people, I have no interest in physics
Eleanor on the tortures of music
and my personal favourite:
I started to wonder why the band was singing about, presumably, the Young Men’s Christian Association, but then, from my very limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and fire-starting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed why not a gender- and faith-based youth organization
Eleanor on Y.M.C.A. by The Village People
Bits and pieces of this book truly were laugh-out-loud funny; so much so that its easy to overlook the many messages that its trying to get across. Its hard to put into words just how much this book and this character has affected me. At the heart of it, its a story about a woman’s journey to discovering that you don’t go through life just trying to survive from one day to the next, you want to truly live. And to do that, we have to be able to forge connections with other people. People who pretend that they don’t need other people are deluding themselves. Neediness is a part of human nature, deal with it.
The trouble is, people sometimes are more trouble than they’re worth. They’ll judge you based on your appearance, talk about you behind your back or laugh at you. What I admire about Eleanor is how she handles people likt that. I mean clearly she doesn’t interact with or relate to them in the normal way. But who are we to say what’s normal or abnormal? Eleanor just gets on with things; she ignores the people in her office and doesn’t give a shit about what they think because she’s already gone through the worst thing that a person can experience, something she doesn’t fully remember until near the end of the book. Compared to that, office gossip and ridicule is a walk in the park.
By helping out an old man who suddenly has a heart attack, Eleanor is gradually drawn to new acquaintances, especially Raymond Gibbons who works in IT in the company where she herself works. She gains new experiences; its absolutely hilarious to witness (or read) her first forays into things that are normal for most women: manicure, a haircut and a head of highlights, waxing! I had tears in my eyes from laughter.
Towards the end, I had tears in my eyes for a different reason. Eleanor Oliphant’s message on unconditional love and friendship is powerful. We all need someone who will love us for who we are; who will comfort us when we’re sick because they care, not because they’re expecting anything in return; who will see your faults and be able to accept them.
Eleanor is adamant that no matter how many new things she tries, she will make it a point to be true to herself, and that is something that I think I can do a bit better. One of my favourite quotes by Erasmus is when he said that “it is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be who he is”. I could not have put it better myself.
At the end of this book, Eleanor’s past is revealed and we come to understand why she is the way she is. There’s a twist at the end that I should have seen coming and I thought it was not only clever but necessary to the plot. There’s also a sense of a new beginning for our girl, even a hint of romance. By the way, I really liked how this book didn’t make romance the central plot but rather, was injected just enough to drive the narrative forward. The way relationships and love were used in the story is something that we can all relate to, especially where the author points out our tendency to idealise someone in our minds and our need to believe that the “perfect” someone exists.
Finally, reading this book made me wonder just how many times a day British people say “are you alright?” It’s like the standard greeting apart form ‘hello’. After five years of living here, even I’ve picked up that habit. I’ve always wondered how people will actually react if someone unburdens their life problems when asked that question. Are we really interested or are we just being polite? It seems like all we really want to hear is that they’re “FINE” even when they’re not.
No one is really truly completely fine. There’s good days and bad days, and days that make life worth living. Live life so that you have more of the latter. I would truly recommend this book to anyone!
Check out Eleanor Oliphant here.