Eleanor Oliphant Just Gets Me

Seriously she does.

Recently I sent a query out to the Facebook world for the next book I should shove my nose into, and was giddy when I noticed a dear friend of mine was one of the first to respond. I was giddy because she if the kind of friend that when she recommends something, there is a high probability that you are you going to be raving about it soon enough. Which brings me to this post in which I will be raving about her suggestion to read “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman.

Eleanor is a quirky, deadpan thirty-year-old woman who keeps to herself and sees most things in the most literal of senses. She is a creature of habit as she has a daily routine at work, routine evenings at home, and always sticks to her typical regiment on the weekends. All of this leads her to be a bit socially awkward, but she sees it as a problem with what are considered to be flawed societal norms and believes herself to be completely fine. One of my favorite Eleanor moments sums her up very nicely:

“But, by careful observation from the sidelines, I’d worked out that social success is often built on pretending just a little. Popular people sometimes have to laugh at things they don’t find very funny, do things they don’t particularly want to, with people whose company they don’t particularly enjoy. Not me. I had decided, years ago, that if the choice was between that or flying solo, then I’d fly solo. It was safer that way.” 

One might wonder “what happened to this woman when she was a child?” Well a lot actually. As the story progresses we learn about her uncomfortable relationship with her “mummy” whom she still talks to weekly, a tragic incident involving a fire when she was a child leaving her face badly scarred, a circuit of various foster homes as she grew up, and a terribly abusive ex-boyfriend. You start to feel for Eleanor who you may now feel extreme sympathy for, that is until she says something so outlandish that you then once again finding yourself saying “ok seriously I don’t get this woman.”

I couldn’t help but find myself identifying with Eleanor. I am very aware of my introverted-ness and can be a straight-shooter of sorts with people as I see it as the most logical approach to talk about certain things. A catalyst of this behavior is due to my own bad memories of my childhood and living in what can best be described as survival mode from the age of nine until I was in my late twenties. It was hard for me to give myself permission to thrive rather than just survive. So the more Eleanor said, the more I found myself saying “well she isn’t wrong” or “I might have to use that line sometime.” My favorite example of this is a scene where she is a party and gets hit on by a man she finds unfavorable.

“‘Can I get you a drink?’ the man yelled, over the top of the next song. I wondered whether the DJ had ever considered introducing a five-minute break between records, to allow people to go to the bar or the lavatory in peace. Perhaps I should suggest that to him later. ‘No thank you,” I said. ‘I don’t want to accept a drink from you because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I’m afraid I’m simply not interested in spending two drinks worth of time with you'”

Although she keeps her head down for the most part at work, she ends up meeting a colleague named Raymond after they help an elderly man on the street outside of their office from a terrible fall that leads to him recovering in the hospital. Eleanor recognizes that her coworker is quite non-threatening, a sentimental man, but also finds him to be rough around the edges due to his drab style of dressing and constant smoking. Raymond constantly engages with Eleanor regarding Sammy, the old man in the hospital, and they slowly start to form a friendship. This is a foreign concept for Eleanor so she is happy to have someone she can call a friend, but also, true to who she is, she also analyzes every interaction with him to the full extent any sociologist would.

In not so Eleanor fashion, she ends up going to a concert with a coworker (not Raymond) and falls head-over-heels in love with the lead singer of the band. This leads her to purchasing a computer simply to follow his social media accounts, spending loads of money on clothes, getting her hair styled for the first time since she was a child, and even getting waxed in the most intimate of places. Ladies you know what I am talking about, and you know we don’t do that for just anyone. It also leads her to finding out where he lives and visiting his building to find out more about him and what their potential future may look like.

Gail Honeyman does a beautiful job of creating these two very different scenarios for Eleanor to work through, her time with Raymond exploring new things and her irrational infatuation with the singer, all the while staying true to a character I had grown to absolutely adore. I wonder if it was easy to do that because Eleanor is very reactionary to the environment and happenings around her, and much like a statistician present for a broadcasting of a baseball game, she gives a literal play-by-play of what she sees happening and why or why not that fits into what she sees as “normal.” She is not cruel to be cruel, and I truly believes she does not mean to hurt anyone, she just doesn’t understand why they are the way they are. I feel this is evident specifically in her interactions with her mother, who is very cruel to Eleanor. Eleanor feels defeated after every conversation due to savagery of her mother’s words and always wonders how someone could be so hurtful. In her interactions with the antithesis of her mother, Raymond, she periodically will bring up items she thinks he should change or things she doesn’t understand about him, like his smoking for example. However, shortly after mentioning how abhorrent she feels his smoking is, she mentions out loud or in her head she is saying it because she doesn’t want to see him sick from cigarettes. Some people may see her statements as a place of being judgmental or mean, but I see them as her trying to either understand them or show her concern for where the person may end up based on what she feels is destructive behavior.

Raymond begins to open up Eleanor to trying things that are different than her typical routine. Various social gatherings, trying new food and drink, and enjoying the occasional high five. A new Eleanor begins to blossom, and she eventually takes the leap to introduce herself to the singer. However, when she goes the a club to see him, he doesn’t notice her at all and begins to behave like an ass on stage. It is at this point she realizes he is not the perfect man she had envisioned him to be. She begins to beat herself up for being stupid enough to think so illogically about someone she knew nothing about, and spirals out of control. She confines herself to her apartment with a plethora of items around her which could assist her in ending her life. Fortunately, she had opened herself up to another great man who saves her as quickly as the singer destroyed her. Raymond. The hero. An angel. The friend we all wish we had. After this excruciating moment in her life, with Raymond by her side, Eleanor finds herself opening her heart to others, but also to herself.

The last section of the book hit me right in the heart. It made me want to reach through the pages and hug Eleanor. Let her know she was a human being having human emotions. I have been in similar situations where I dream up the ideal situation for myself; a relationship, my career, goals for my finances, retirement. Many times these ideas are either unrealistic or not true to who I am but are rather what I think others think I should be. I eventually hit a brick wall when trying to achieve this perfect reality and it sends my brain on a dark journey. I begin to question my ability to make decisions. I continuously ask myself why I thought that was a good idea. I absolutely lose my identity in the moment. Luckily like Eleanor, I have good friends who always rescue me and get me back on the right path. As I read through Eleanor’s recovery, I felt as if I were reading an autobiography of myself. I could feel myself nodding with a giant smile on my face while I yelled “you go girl!” in my head.

As Eleanor returns to work after taking a hiatus to focus on her mental health, she finds herself sitting at her computer trying to remember her password. When she finally reveals what it is, I found myself finding three of my new favorite words that begin one of my new favorite phrases: Ignis aurum probat. Fire tests gold……..and adversity tests the brave. She then reminds herself it is “a strong password, strong indeed.”

Yes Eleanor, you are also strong, strong indeed.

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