“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or to hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact. I have been waiting for death all my life. I do not mean that I actively wish to die, just that I do not really want to be alive.”
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, thank you very much. 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. She aspires to be normal. Nothing is missing from her meticulously organised life. Except, sometimes, everything.
After Eleanor gains a friend, she has to learn how to commandeer the world that everyone has been living in, everyone except her that is.
Eleanor Oliphant is probably one of the most memorable and remarkable characters I have journeyed through a story with in a long time. She is stoic yet personable. Unconsciously charming. She’s judgemental, yet endearing.
She is also extremely socially inept. Her interaction with the ‘outside world’ is very limited, she questions our socially traditional tendencies in an assiduous manner, yet still tries to broaden her own horizons. She is an unconventional heroine, in every sense of the word.
Character development is the main theme of this novel, and as I ventured through page after page, I grew more, and more, and more, attached to Eleanor. The discovery of herself is one that takes its time, and the author spoon feeds the reader slowly, disabling us from barreling through the storyline. It is slow, but compelling.
Even though her emotional range is restricted to begin with, the narrative is written in such a simple yet endearing way, that you can’t help but root for Eleanor in all the ways you root for underdogs. Her notions, although perhaps not socially acceptable, are actually perfectly logical, so that although I started off with thinking that Eleanor Oliphant is definitely peculiar, I also thought, huh, she has a point.
Although Eleanor wants nothing more than an ordinary, simple life, the narrative forced me to question my own ‘normal’ tendencies, why is it that we, as a society, function in the way that we do? Why do we actively encourage crippling the female gender in our mission to appear to have longer legs? Why do we want boys and men to be bigger, and stronger, when everybody is already good enough as they are? Why do we find women only socially acceptable when their bodies are completely bald, minus their heads? Why are women’s pubes unattractive yet men’s aren’t? I mean, pubes are either sexy or they’re not, right? Is it the media? Is it humanistic herd mentality? Perhaps, a mixture of both? Either way, Eleanor Oliphant doesn’t care, she just wants to be a part of it.
A lot of mental health issues are talked about these days – not enough, and not all, but to some degree – with more and more of society taking an interest. However, like with many aspects of life, the media has picked favourites, which is why you hear so much more of one condition compared to another. One thing I love about this novel is that it raises awareness of something that we, as the public, generally do not discuss, due mostly to simply being ashamed: loneliness.
I will be honest, I had never thought of loneliness as a mental health issue before, but rather as an emotion, or a side effect. It was something that I realised I was ashamed of feeling myself. I connected to Eleanor Oliphant in a way that I have never related to a character before. The realism of the character development is so potent that we have all been Eleanor Oliphant at some point, and maybe will be again in the future. However, as the message in this novel so strongly points out, it is never too late for any of us to reach out to others. And being socially conventional about it is overrated anyway.
Also, I am glad that Eleanor Oliphant wasn’t ‘saved by love’, because although it is hinted that that’s where the story is going, I find that too often people try to find potential partners to save them from loneliness, and too occasionally find themselves in an unhappy relationship, spiralling towards that deep, dark depression again. The narrative stuck to the basics of character development, whilst also giving Eleanor the basics to live, not just exist. Romance was implied, but not included. As is the same for many of us, we are saved more often by friends and family, rather than our love notions.
I am truly emotionally invested in Eleanor Oliphant, I doubt I will get over her for a while. I was a little wary of the hype surrounding this book because all too often I am influenced, and then disappointed. But, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This insightful, contemporary debut is hugely worthwhile of the Costa Book Awards 2017.